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Early Critical Notices of Sarah Orne Jewett's Work
A collection of notices and short essays that discuss Jewett's contributions to American Literature.
Additions and suggestions welcome for this growing collection.
WOMEN IN LITERATURE
Boston Sunday Herald (March 15, 1885): 12.
It is said that Miss Murfree concealed her sex under the name of Charles Egbert Craddock in order that her chances of success in literature might not be injured by the fact of sex. She evidently felt the disadvantage of being a woman. Miss Evans probably felt this disadvantage when she decided to appear as George Eliot, and struck as manly an attitude as possible. It may seem that these writers have overestimated an existing prejudice against female authorship, as if women must always do things with less strength or completeness than men, but there is just enough truth in this prejudice to make modest women careful how they crowd themselves into fields which have hitherto been almost exclusively occupied by men. They do not dare to say that they are men's equals in the competition for leadership in literature, and it may be that, in some departments of effort, they must retire from competition with the masculine intellect. Women seem to be incapable of the highest creative work, whether in art or letters. They have the maturing but not the constructive genius. But in the field of fiction, where the creative intelligence works upon materials already furnished to one's hand, women, though working upon lines which are differentiated from those travelled by men, may be said to be men's equals and to more than hold their own. It would seem as if the time had come when Miss Murfree could have won the success which she has justly deserved without assuming a character which did not belong to her. Though George Eliot and George Sand are distinguished company for her to be in, there is no reason in these days why a competent writer should not gain a hearing as quickly through one sex as through the other. The writers referred to had exceptionally masculine qualities, which easily lent consistency to the description, but despite the limitations of women, the sex is no longer at a real disadvantage in the world of letters, particularly in the world of fiction. The novel is woman's realm, and where, as in the "No Name" and the "Round Robin" series, the contributors are unknown and the sex of the work is to be guessed at, it is not easy to trace the woman's hand as distinguished from that of men. The fairly competent woman does as good work as a man does. Its quality may be varied, but it is only a variation of work, not work of a deteriorated character. Illustrations may be found in poetry, in fiction, and in all the departments of intellectual work where men and women are at an equal advantage. Two names, the Brownings, are striking examples of what a man and a woman may do in the same kind of effort. Both writers of poetry, each excelling in the same kinds of verse, the lyrical and dramatic, it is hard to draw the line between the two and say where the intellect of the one outshines the intellect of the other. "Strafford" and "Aurora Leigh" differ in some respects from each other, but both require the same intellectual gifts, and both are works of genius. Again, it is difficult to say that Walter Scott is a greater writer of fiction than George Eliot, or that "Ivanhoe" and "Kenilworth" are better examples of medieval life, rehabilitated, than "Romola"; and, again, it would be difficult to say that Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" is a greater work then George Sand's "Consuelo." In the authorship of the really great novels of the century, women have done work that suffers nothing by comparison with that of men. In creative power, in the delineation of character, in the construction of a story, in the touches that awaken the moral sentiments and gain the mastery over one's nature, the woman is as likely as the man to do the best work. But you would never think of a woman as the author of "The Excursion," or as the writer of a treatise on logic, or as anything more than a sympathetic respondent to philosophical ideas at the Concord school of philosophy. The law of sex asserts itself even in literature, and when women attempt what is beyond them, as if the line of sex could be crossed over with impunity, nature appears with a sword that moves both ways, and forbids women to enter the garden where they may again eat of the fruit of the tree of all intellectual effort. Women's work in literature is usually complementary to that of men, and women are largely at a disadvantage in the matter of a suitable training for what they attempt to do; but where they work upon lines common to both sexes, the woman is usually the finer, the nicer, the more competent of the two in the quality of the writing. It may not be that the best prose is written by women. You can find nothing in women's prose to match passages in the writings of Cardinal Newman or Ralph Waldo Emerson or Walter H. Pater, but, on the other hand, you can find nothing in genuine humor that excels the New England stories of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, no revelations of child life that surpass those delineated by Louisa Alcott, no sketches of New England atmospheres that surpass those made by Miss Jewett, no home-spun dialect stories that are truer to life than those written by Rose Terry Cooke, no American religious poetry that more touches the springs of life than that written by Harriet McEwen Kimball. When you count up the achievements in poetry and fiction that have been reached by American women, there is no reason why any one of the sex should blush for fear she cannot do as good work as men do. Women seldom excel in the paths in which Miss Frances Power Cobb has made herself famous, the paths of ethical study, but where they are strong, their strength is something like the everlasting hills. They are not to be moved from their convictions, and the more women are brought forward and prepared for the fields of effort in which they are filled to excel, the more it will be gladly conceded that their merits rest upon foundations as substantial in their way as those which are joyfully conceded to belong to such writers as Hawthorne and Emerson. Miss Murfree's excellence has been recognized at once, because her touch was true, because she struck the right notes, and the wine was so good that it needed not the bush in which it was concealed.
Maurice Thompson, "Literature. More about The Short Story." America 3 (9 January 1890), 471.
AMERICAN publishers say that books of short stories do not sell -- that the demand for them is not considerable as an element of the trade. Doubtless this condition is due to the kind of short stories to which American writers have turned their thought. Certainly there has been a large demand for a few books of the kind, notably the stories of Poe, Bret Harte and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Is the lagging sale of most collections of short stories referable to a lack of appreciation of brevity and concentrated force on the part of American readers? I think not. Bret Harte's shortest stories were most popular, and are likely to remain so. Uncle Remus has lost nothing by breaking his delightful garrulity into brilliant fragments. In short, Americans are sticklers for condensation.
What, then, is the trouble? In another study in this column not long ago I considered one phase of this question, and tried to show that while our people delight in the shortest of short stories, our writers persist in setting at defiance the popular demand and pad out their work to about twice or three times the true artistic dimensions. Of course I did not mean by this to underrate our short-story writers. No country can surpass us in presenting a group of authors whose ability to produce striking stories is of a high order. Let me mention a few of our many artists in this line.
Leaving out the names of the great dead, there are Aldrich, Harte, Mathews, Hale, Cable, Page, Harris, Janvier, Stockton, Edwards, Johnson and a goodly number of others, besides the flock of brilliant women led by Miss Woolson, Mrs. Phelps-Ward, Miss Jewett, Mrs. Cooke, Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Spofford in the North and by Miss Grace King and others in the South. To mention all would be going beyond my space, and I have, therefore, penned the names that come first to mind.
Now why should not a volume of short stories by any one of the above named writers have as great a sale as a novel from the same hand? From any one of a few of them it certainly would, because the power to write a novel does not belong to any of that few; but supposing the gifts to be equal -- that the author can work as well in one task as in the other, as many of them have shown that they can -- why does the public prefer their novels?
If I had to answer this query and were sure that I could do it and at the same time avoid offense, I should say that "padding" is the word. What is lovingly termed "local color" has grown so dear to our American school of art that it has risen like a mountain stream after a rain storm. We use too many words to set our color; it is as if our fixitive were an essential element of our expression. There may be a commercial reason, too, for most of our journals and magazines pay by the yard -- that is by the column or page -- for the stories they buy, and who more than the poor author is tempted to lengthen his warp and scatter his filling under such a condition? Let us suppose a case. We will assume that a certain magazine pays $25 the thousand words for the short stories it buys, and that one author conscientiously works his invention down to the densest and most crystal-like proportions of art, while the other carefully mixes in a large amount of picturesque padding. It requires no difficult calculation to find out which of the writers will prosper financially. Five thousand words at $25 the thousand fetch two and one half times as many dollars as do two thousand words at the same rate. As a rule authors are poor financiers, but sooner or later [latter] they must discover the working of a rule like the one described.
Still we cannot conclude that we have discovered a full solution of our problem, for the French write the best and shortest of short stories, and they are paid by the rule of space. At least it was Alexander Dumas, I believe, who first set the example of breaking up his matter into very short paragraphs in order to increase his income.
In the first place, the short story must be perfected before the public taste regarding it can be properly educated. The art of this sort of creation is much more difficult than that of the novel; indeed, it is second only to that of the poem. A single thought, so to speak, is all that can be elaborated in it. Aside from this central invention there is nothing to give vitality to the short story, which, like a powerful sketch in colors, must glow with intense life without being overloaded with after-touches.
It must be remembered (though it is forgotten by too many) that a wide space separates the mere study from the adequate sketch. American short-story writers make too many protracted studies, too few sincere and outright sketches. What may be called the New England dialect story is almost sure to be drawn out to admirable but flimsy tenuousness. The Southern stories are better in this regard, but carry too much color, as a rule.
To be sure, if we regard the New England stories as mere studies our criticism does not apply, and it must be very much modified if we take the Southern stories as descriptive sketches. It is when observed from the point of view of creative fiction that both must fall short of the best success, so long as force is sacrified to an exhibition of verbal luxuriance, and so long as unity of construction is lost in a display of diluted humor.
I do not hesitate to assert that we have in America a group of writeres (and I have named a few of the best) who have the very cleverest genius for short-story writing, a genius scarcely excelled by the best in France; but they do not use it to best advantage. Take the finest things done by Aldrich, Mathews and Cable, for instances, and what in the short-story line can exhibit greater originality of invention or clearer vision of color and form? But at the point of compactness of construction and unity of purpose how rarely they miss the fault of telling too much that serves as mere filling? It is the American habit, hard to leave off, easy to acquire. If I may say it without appearing offensively captious, our writers seem to doubt the acumen of their readers, and go to great lengths of analysis and explanatory description where a French story writer would project his thought by a phrase or two and leave it as clear cut as a crystal of quartz.
I am mindful of the misconstruction that a hasty reader may give to my views; but the truth will soften as it is worn, and it fits best those who don it with illest ease. The bright and engaging American writers who are doing such remarkable work in short stories for our magazines will (some of them) soon learn that compression results in that intensity after which they have sought in vain by the color-stacking process, on one hand, and by the tedious method of analysis, on the other hand. The New England essay-story and the Southern word-wonder story may be best instanced in the works of Miss Jewett and Mr. Lafcadio Hearn. Both of these writers are notably attractive and spendidly effective, the exemplars of their schools, the extremes of the American habit; but they are not story-writers at all in the sense that Guy de Maupassant and Alphonse Daudet are story-writers. They lack the directness and absoluteness of stroke, the swift vision-focus and the lucky dash of expression that trusts just enough to the reader's imagination and cleverness of insight to make him feel a sort of copartnership with the author. Aldrich and Brander Mathews come nearest of any Americans, perhaps, to the French method of short-story making, but I must not fall into comparisons. Our story-writers deserve high praise, and must have it freely; the critics office is to suggest to them, in the friendliest mood, the loose joints of their armor.
From Edmund C. Stedman, Poets of America.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1890, pp. 463-4
A LIFE-SCHOOL BETOKENED
By such examples more light is cast upon the reduced importance of our song-makers, and ground discovered for a belief that this is transitory and that a fresh departure will anon be made.  Fancy and imagination are still rife, but their energy finds vent in new directions. Accomplished craftsmen, some of whom thirty years ago might have been numbered among the poets, now supply the public with its imaginative rations in the guise of prose fiction and romance. Through instinct or judgment, they have occupied the gap in our literature. The time has been opportune; famous innings were made by the elder minstrels; our school of fiction had been represented only by a few rare and exceptional names. So keen has been the new impulse, that the young neophyte of to-day, instead of shaping his vague conceptions into rhythm and imitating the poets within his knowledge, longs to emulate the foremost novelists. In the flush of our latest conquest, the rank and file naturally overrate the relative worth of prose fiction, which, at its best, -- as will appear on a brief consideration of the world's literary masterpieces, -- is not a more vital and enduring creation than the poet's song. Yet the movement has resulted in a decided gain to the prestige of our national authorship. With a staff of novelists and romancers well equipped in both invention and style, -- Howells, Aldrich, Julian Hawthorne, Eggleston, Cable, James, Harte, Crawford, Bishop, Stockton, Lathrop, Kip, Mrs. Stoddard, Miss Jewett, Miss Woolson, Miss Murfree, Miss Howard, Mrs. Foote and others who also are adequate to cope with the transatlantic experts, -- in view of the results already obtained from the field in which these popular authors are so active, none can assume that the diversion of creative energy thus exemplified has not brought with it a measurable compensation.SIDENOTES:  New outlets of imaginative energy.  The prevailing impulse.  Compensation
James Russell Lowell comments in a British publisher's circular
Quoted from John E. Frost, Sarah Orne Jewett (Kittery Point, ME: Gundalow Club, 1960), 81-2.
Every editor of the Atlantic during Sarah Jewett's lifetime, Lowell, Fields, Howells, Aldrich, Scudder, Page, and Perry, admired Miss Jewett. Lowell had long ceased to be the Atlantic's editor when Sarah Jewett's first contributions appeared there, but he was fond of Sarah. At Elmwood, his Cambridge home, they discussed books and writing, and Lowell introduced to her the poetry of John Donne. If he liked to tease Sarah about Maine colloquialisms by calling her "Serrer," or by speaking of the "Deestric of Maine" (a survival of the days when Maine was a part of Massachusetts), Lowell, none-the-less, appreciated highly her work. Osgood, aware of this admiration, asked Lowell to forward a letter of appraisal of Miss Jewett's work for an English publisher's circular. Lowell's criticism reads in part: "I am very glad to hear that Miss Jewett's delightful stories are to be reprinted in England. Nothing more pleasingly characteristic of rural New England has been written, and they have long been valued by the judicious here. . . . Miss Jewett has wisely chosen to work within narrow limitations, but these are such only as are implied in an artistic nature and a cheerful compliance with it. She has thus learned a discreet use of her material and to fill the space allotted without overcrowding it either with scenery but there is always room for artistic completeness and breadth of treatment which are what she aims at and attains." Unfortunately, Osgood's request reached Lowell after he had become seriously ill; that he wrote for the circular under great difficulty always grieved Sarah Jewett. When word of his death reached Berwick, she wrote Annie Fields: "How we should talk about dear Mr. Lowell if we were together. Here he is only the 'Lowell' of his books, to people, and not a single one knows how dear and charming he was and how full of helps to one's thoughts and purposes in every day life. I wrote to Mabel [his daughter] most truly that I was as fond of him almost as if I belonged to his household and kindred. And I suppose that the last bit of writing for print that he may have done was that letter for me."
Frost says that the printed untitled publisher's circular and the August 1891 letter are in the Jewett collection at the Houghton Library. I have not yet located the circular. The letter is in Jewett, Sarah Orne, 1849-1909. Annie Fields (Adams) 1834-1915, recipient. 194 letters; 1877-1909 & [n.d.] Sarah Orne Jewett correspondence, 1861-1930. MS Am 1743 (255). Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
From Thomas Bailey Aldrich, An Old Town by the Sea.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1893, 1917. pp. 121-123
When I look back to Portsmouth as I knew it, it occurs to me that it must have been in some respects unique among New England towns. There were, for instance, no really poor persons in the place; every one had some sufficient calling or an income to render it unnecessary; vagrants and paupers were instantly snapped up and provided for at "the Farm." There was, however, in a gambrel-roofed house here and there, a decayed old gentlewoman, occupying a scrupulously neat room with just a suspicion of maccaboy snuff in the air, who had her meals sent in to her by the neighborhood -- as a matter of course, and involving no sense of dependency on her side. It is wonderful what an extension of vitality is given to an old gentlewoman in this condition!
I would like to write about several of those ancient Dames, as they were affectionately called, and to materialize others of the shadows that stir in my recollection; but this would be to go outside the lines of my purpose, which is simply to indicate one of the various sorts of changes that have come over the vie intime of formerly secluded places like Portsmouth -- the obliteration of odd personalities, or, if not the obliteration, the general disregard of them. Everywhere in New England the impress of the past is fading out. The few old-fashioned men and women – quaint, shrewd, and racy of the soil -- who linger in little, silvery-gray old homesteads strung along the New England roads and by-ways will shortly cease to exist as a class, save in the record of some such charming chronicler as Sarah Jewett, or Mary Wilkins, on whose sympathetic page they have already taken to themselves a remote air, an atmosphere of long-kept lavender and pennyroyal.
Peculiarity in any kind requires encouragement in order to reach flower. The increased facilities of communication between points once isolated, the interchange of customs and modes of thought, make this encouragement more and more difficult each decade. The naturally inclined eccentric finds his sharp outlines rubbed off by unavoidable attrition with a larger world than owns him. Insensibly he lends himself to the shaping hand of new ideas. He gets his reversible cuffs and paper collars from Cambridge, Massachusetts, the scarab?us in his scarf-pin from Mexico, and his ulster from everywhere. He has passed out of the chrysalis state of Odd Stick; he has ceased to be parochial; he is no longer distinct; he is simply the Average Man.
"Th. Bentzon in New York," The Critic 20 (November 4, 1893), 287.
A MOST INTERESTING French woman has just passed through New York on her way to Chicago. To her friends she is Mme. Blanc; but to the reading public of France she is known as Th. Bentzon. Over the latter name she is a regular contributor to the Revue des Deux Mondes, and she may be said to have done more than any other person to present the American woman, in her true light, to the French public. Mme. Blanc is not only a prolific writer of original stories and essays, but she is an exceedingly clever translator of English into French. Among those whom she has introduced to French audiences in the columns of the Revue is Miss Sarah Orne Jewett. She prefers to translate stories that are racy of the soil, rather than those which show merely the clever writer, and have nothing about them that is local or national.
To a representative of The Critic Mme. Blanc said that her object in coming to America was to see the Americans at home, and to learn at first-hand what progress American women have made in the arts and professions. She has already gone to Chicago, to see that wonderful city and also the wonder city just below it on the lake-front. She will visit Boston as the guest of Mrs. James T. Fields, and then return to New York. While in the West she will visit some typical American towns – one, in particular, where there is a co-educational college, a novelty that cannot fail to interest a Frenchwoman. Indeed, Mme. Blanc is interested in everything that she has seen in this country, in which she arrived on Saturday last. Under the guidance of one of her old friends, Mr. August Jaccaci, art director of McClure's Magazine, she saw some of the sights of this city on Sunday – High Bridge, the Riverside Drive, the East Side, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The latter she considers magnificent beyond description, and as for the harbor of New York, she was not prepared for its beauty. Mme. Blanc speaks English with fluency, and one is astonished in talking with her to see how well-read she is in English and American Literature.
SARAH ORNE JEWETT.
Sunday School Library Bulletin 3:2 (June 1894), 3-4.
Every true American has a strong feeling of pride when he thinks of the part New England has played in his country's history. We welcome as a friend any writer who penetrates into the New England by-ways, among its sterile farms, where life is always a struggle, or along the shores, where men learn to be hardy and stern by living in combat with the sea.
Such a loving and gentle friend we find in Sarah Orne Jewett.
Miss Jewett was born in 1849, in South Berwick, Me., a pretty manufacturing village near the sea-coast, and in one of the most interesting neighborhoods in New England.
Her father was a distinguished physician and ornithologist; he died some years since. In her childhood, being rather delicate, she was encouraged to lead an out-door life, and seems to have divided her time between nature and books.
"Her vision certainly penetrates the tangle and obscurity where that of others fails like a spent or impotent bullet."
She accompanied her father upon his professional duties, and from him learned the family history of many people. Having an active and sympathetic nature we can readily perceive that these narratives formed the impetus for those inimitable character sketches of hers, such as are contained in "Tales of New England," "Country By-ways," "Old Friends and New" and "The King of Folly Island; and other people."
Miss Jewett began writing at nineteen, and besides the volumes of her collected stories, she has been a frequent contributor to leading periodicals, and has become acquainted with a multitude of readers through the columns of the "Atlantic Monthly." Such short stories have their own mission in this world. There can never be too much of this sort of literature bringing comfort to poor tired human souls.
One of the earliest of Miss Jewett's book was "Deephaven," and it won high praise for its wonderful simplicity, being simply the record of an uneventful summer spent by two young girls in a quaint, and almost deserted, New England fishing village.
It is called a novel, but it is altogether devoid of love and passion, yet wonderfully popular with the reading public. In this story, and also in "A Marsh Island" we see clearly the effect of a residence near the sea-coast. The descriptions are so realistic that we feel it would be possible for one who had never seen the sea to lay down one of those volumes and really fancy he smelt the salt air from the marshes.
"A Marsh Island" is a perfect gem. The simple home life of the farm-house is told in so genuine and picturesque a manner that we are thoroughly acquainted with the character of each inmate. The broad charity of the writer is apparent in the fact that each character in her books presents at least one or more good qualities.
Artistically, "A Country Doctor" is probably not so perfect, but it is stronger in conception, and we can readily see how perfectly conversant with the subject she could be. It is one of the choice books which while away leisure hours with agreeable thoughts and fancies. Our interest in the characters is not only in what they do, but in the manner in which it is set forth.
Another characteristic of Miss Jewett is the fact that she finds a perfect inspiration in an old deserted house, or in a family which has seen "better days." This we clearly see in some of her short stories.
She also has a sense of humor. We find it displayed in the description of a country funeral, and while reading notice no incongruity.
Miss Jewett had varied her writing of short stories, that difficult achievement which she has acquired so well, with poetical composition. If all her printed poems were collected they would make a good-sized volume. The poems are calm and contemplative rather than passionate.
In all her works however we can plainly see that out-door life with her is a passion. She lives in the closest companionship with nature, and generously allows her hosts of admiring friends to share this natural heritage, by interpreting the voices of the woods and the splash of the sea, through a mind and heart deeply imbued with the wisdom and love of God, and anxious that every one should follow her example by getting the most out of this life.
She does not neglect the young. "Betty Leicester" and "Play Days" are among the best stories for young people that we have ever seen.
DEVOTED EXCLUSIVELY TO THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL LIBRARY.
GOODENOUGH & WOGLOM CO., Publishers, 122 Nassau St., New York.
NEW YORK, JUNE, 1894.
Harriet Prescott Spofford, "Sarah Orne Jewett," The Book Buyer 11:7 (August 1894), 329-330.
SARAH ORNE JEWETT.
THE secret of Sarah Jewett's great success in her work, outside of its artistic perfection, is the spirit of loving kindness and tender mercy that pervades it. And that is perhaps because the same spirit also pervades herself. She loves her kind, and has the warmest interest in the movements of those about her.
The circumstances of her life have been such as to foster this love. The child of a country doctor (than whom no one stands in closer relation to the countryside), she early went about with him in his long drives, and was admitted to an intimacy with the lives of people, hardly otherwise attainable – an intimacy revealed on every page of her stories. Something of the character of this wise and kind father, who never lost a chance of teaching her how to observe, and whose name, Theodore Herman Jewett, has a descriptive charm, she has painted in her story of "The Country Doctor." But elsewhere she says: "My father had inherited from his father an amazing knowledge of human nature, and from his mother's French ancestry that peculiarly French trait call gaiet? de cœur. Through all the heavy responsibilities and anxieties of his busy professional life, this kept him young at heart and cheerful. His visits to his patients were often made delightful and refreshing to them by his kind heart, and the charm of his personality. I knew many of the patients whom he used to visit in lonely inland farms or on the sea-coast in York and Wells. I used to follow him about silently, like an undemanding little dog, content to follow at his heels. I had no consciousness of watching or listening, or indeed of any special interest in the country interiors. In fact, when the time came that my own world of imagination was more real to me than any other, I was sometimes perplexed at my father's directing my attention to certain points of interest in the character or surroundings of our acquaintances. I cannot help believing that he recognized, long before I did myself, in what direction the current of purpose in my life was setting. Now, as I write my sketches of country life, I remember again and again the wise things he said, and the sights he made me see. He was only impatient with affectation and insincerity." He could never have been impatient with Sarah, then; for absolute simplicity and sincerity are among her chief characteristics.
Her delicate health, as a child, obliged her to be much outdoors; and in the large old town at the head of tide-water, in the Agamenticus region, she had every facility for acquiring a knowledge of nature and of people; here she attended the academy, and found it easy to write verse and hard to write prose; and here she heard the graphic dialect of the country store and of the wharf, ran with the other children to mount the logging team from the woods and ride into town over the creaking snow, and met at her grandfather's the weather-bronzed ship-masters, who brought, to the children's much satisfaction, store of oranges, and pineapples, and filberts, and big jars of olives and tamarinds, and brought something better yet for the hungry imaginations in their stories of the islands of the sea, of the "great storms on the Atlantic, and winds that blew them north-about." The place was full of tradition; here she listened to many a strange recital regarding the privateers of the war of 1812, whose crews were shipped all alongshore; regarding the Revolution, in which her mother's people, the Gilmans of Exeter, took the rebels' part, but her father's ancestors could not forsake allegiance to the dear mother country; and regarding the yet older and sadder days of the French and Indian wars. And here, hardly more than a child, she was a writer for the Young Folks and The Riverside; and at nineteen sent her first sketch to the Atlantic Monthly, where her genius was at once recognized and encouraged. She has published many volumes since then, and her work has been translated into a foreign tongue, but nowhere is it loved so much as at home, where we have the same somewhat tender feeling for its faithfulness and finish, its humor and pathos, that we have for our family portraits.
Surely no one ever had a finer training for work than she had in this ancient town of South Berwick, called by its own people Barvick, after the Norse fashion, where she was born in a colonial house built a hundred and fifty years ago and untouched by modern hands. The old hip-roofed mansion among its lofty trees, whose paneled hall with its wide arch, and ample staircase and huge door opening into greenery beyond, give one the very ideal of hospitable welcome, is still her home, and she has the heartiest affection for it. "I was born here," she said once, "and I hope to die here, leaving the lilac bushes still green and growing, and all the chairs in their places." Although she spends a good part of her time here, she is very often the favored sharer of Annie Fields's home, in the historic house on Charles Street in Boston, and where the eagle's eyrie of Thunderbolt Hill has been transformed into a nest of flowers in Manchester-by-the-Sea. She has travelled much in American, and has made several visits abroad; but she always says she has taken no greater delight in these journeyings than in the rides and tramps within the borders of old Berwick. I like to think of her the guest of Tennyson, as he takes in his hands the crystal sphere she wears on her watch-chain, and surveys the stately grace and dark beauty of the American girl – as if we had sent her to the old poet as our best and finest. I like even better to think of her in the old forest of Barbizon, the haunt of Millet, between whose work and her own a subtile resemblance lies, and where the French blood in her veins gives her a certain right of place. Perhaps it is this foreign strain which lends such an attraction to her manner, a manner that combines a height of delicate refinement and cordial artlessness which both fires your fancy and warms your heart. When you see her with her lofty carriage, her dark eyes, her high-bred and beautiful features, you remember the royal significance of her name in Scripture, and you are half inclined to wonder how it is that a princess of the régime is writing stories that are the accurate transcript of the lives of peasants. But when, if by rare fortune, you hear her read from her own pages, with a voice like a soft south wind, and with a quaint and lovely air that is all her own, then you know that these stories of hers are written from the heart that beats for humbler, homelier people as if with the same blood.
Harriet Prescott Spofford.
From Horace Scudder, "Half a Dozen Story-Books. " The Atlantic Monthly 76: 456 (October 1895), pp. 558-9.
In her volume of tales of New England life [Meadow-Grass. Boston, 1895], Miss Brown has kept away from plated cities or any composite society. Her village of Tiverton and the neighboring market town of Sudleigh furnish scene enough for the play of her country folk, and in the varying fortunes of the figures she brings forward there is room for a wide gamut of emotional notes. In her first sketch, Number Five, she introduces the reader to a few of the village worthies in a careless, happy fashion, and in her last, Strollers in Tiverton, she gives free vent to a mood which now and again is present in the dozen stories which make up the rest of the volume, -- a mood which is the stirring of gypsy blood in the veins. There is a character, Dilly Joyce, who is a potential witch, and it is clear that Miss Brown's heart goes out to her as to scarcely any other of her creations; yet not in Dilly Joyce alone, nor in Molly McNeil or Nance Pete, does she betray her love of freedom and sunshine and the wind of heaven, but throughout the book there is a motion, a light, joyous tread, which gives Meadow-Grass a subtle attraction not to be found, we venture to say, in any other collection of New England tales. Mrs. Stowe sometimes catches the spirit, but there is a carelessness about her work which does not heighten the art. Miss Jewett never quite parts with that air of fine breeding which gives grace and beauty to her work, and makes her characters the objects of a compassion born of fuller knowledge than they possess of themselves. Mrs. Slosson has caught at the grotesque side of New England life and interprets it with a poetic charity. Miss Wilkins has the genius which concentrates the very essence of the life in her marvelously pointed sketches. Mr. Robinson has fixed one or two types of outdoor human life with precision and a hearty sympathy with traditional masculine rusticity. But it has remained for Miss Brown to enter this same general field of New England country life, and without producing any new variety of tale, or scarcely any new character, to use familiar material, and yet illumine it with a new light. We cannot define it any more closely than by saying that the genuine humor which pervades the best of her work is closely identified with a love of sunshine, of growing things, and of movement in nature and the corresponding changes of light and shade in the human soul. There is a little story in this volume, Farmer Eli's Vacation, which is a masterpiece. The emotion which may exist under an impassive exterior is brought to light with a grace, a restraint of words and dignity of art, yet with a naturalness of narrative, that leave nothing to be desired. Nor will one readily forget the inimitable stories already printed in The Atlantic, Hearts-ease, and Joint Owners in Spain. Now and then, as in Bankrupt, and At Sudleigh Fair, Miss Brown possibly forces a note too much, and seems to fall back a little on conventional resources; but the entire effect of the book is of a natural beauty, springing spontaneously and finding most apt expression. Above all, as we have intimated, there is a true wild-wood flavor, a rusticity which is not a mere foil to civility.
From Fred Lewis Patee, A History of American Literature. New York: Silver, Burdett, & Co., 1896.
Studies of New England Life. – But the greater part of Miss Phelps' work has been the sketching with intense colors, on a New England background, of exquisite miniatures over a thinly concealed moral. She is one of the leading figures in the little group of women that has done in prose for New England humble life what Whittier did in verse. Few literary fields have been worked with more painstaking care or with richer results. Mrs. Stowe is the leader of the group. Among its other members are ROSE TERRY COOKE (1827-1892), who has caught as no one else has the grim humor underlying New England life and character; JANE G. AUSTIN (1831-1894), whose faithful studies of early colonial days are a real addition to American Literature; Sarah Orne Jewett, who merits a more extended notice; and MARY E. WILKINS (b. 1862), whose accurate characterizations have made her one of the strongest of the later school of writers. Nearly all of these are at their best in short sketches, -- "thumb-nail studies" of life and character. In this field they have created some of the most original and valuable work that has been added of late years to our literature.
No one of the group has written stronger or more finished work than Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. She excels in studies of humble life in the fishing villages of Massachusetts. Jack the Fisherman and The Madonna of the Tubs are prose idyls which are well-nigh faultless in conception and execution. All of her work is intense and earnest. Many of her books are sermons against intemperance and kindred evils. That she is extravagant at times in her rhetoric, and too emotional and strained in some of her pictures, can be overlooked in view of the spontaneousness of her message, and the strength and delicacy of her literary art.
In 1889 Miss Phelps became the wife of Herbert D. Ward, a son of the editor of The Independent, and, in collaboration with her husband, she has produced several novels dealing with Biblical scenes and characters. These, however, are inferior works. Her autobiographical study, Chapters from a Life, is full of delightful glimpses of her early environment, and the group of writers which made the middle of the century notable in New England.
REQUIRED READING.—Jack the Fisherman; The Story of Avis.
3. SARAH ORNE JEWETT (b. 1849).
"Sarah O. Jewett portrays the ancient, decadent, respectable, gentle, and winsome seaboard town, and tells of the life therein." – Richardson.
The novelist of the northern New England coast, as Celia Thaxter is its poet, is Sarah Orne Jewett of South Berwick, Maine, a little country village not far from the Isles of Shoals. All of that interesting region about Portsmouth, and Kittery, and York, with its odors of the ocean, its traditions of better days, its historic family mansions fast going to decay, and its peculiar types of character, Miss Jewett knows by heart. She has traversed it in every part, and studied faithfully all of its types and characteristics. Her father, a physician of more than local fame, from her childhood had taken her with him on his professional rounds, often beguiling the time with tales of family history, anecdotes of his practice, and characterizations of the peculiar people that he had met during his long experience as a country doctor. The impressionable young novelist could have had no better training for her future work. Her first tales of village life, contributed to the leading magazines, won for her at once an appreciative audience which has steadily increased until the present day.
Miss Jewett, like most of her school of writers, is at her best in the short sketch of life and character. Her plots are slight; she is seldom analytic; she deals more with individual peculiarities than with the universal experiences of life, but in the portrayal of these individuals and their peculiar surroundings, she shows a wonderful power. Her delicate humor, her mastery of dialogue, her simple, limpid style which has been compared even to Hawthorne's, and her fidelity to nature combine to give her work a peculiar strength and charm. Her sketches are as minute in detail and as graphic in treatment as Flemish pictures. Every feature of the Kittery coast – rock, headland, tree, river, and country village – stands out clear and sharp, while her characters seem to live and breathe before us. The readers of her sketches are few who will not agree with James Russell Lowell, that "Nothing more pleasingly characteristic of rural life in New England has been written."
SUGGESTED READING.—A White Heron; A Country Doctor.
From F. V. N. Painter, Introduction to American literature, including illustrative selections.Boston: Leach, Shewell & Sanborn, 1897, pp. 253 – 258
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS (born 1837). Began as a writer of verse. For a number of years editor of Atlantic Monthly. "The Undiscovered Country," "A Fearful Responsibility," "A Modern Instance," and "A Woman 's Reason" are among his best works, to which may be added a series of farce dramas, including "The Mouse Trap," "The Parlor Car," "The Register," etc.
HENRY JAMES (born 1843). Critic and novelist. Originated the class of fiction know as "international" or "transatlantic," and a leader of the realistic school of novelists. Author of "Daisy Miller," "The Portrait of a Lady," "The American," "French Poets and Novelists," etc.
EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN (born 1833). Poet and critic. Author of "The Doorstep," "Alice of Monmouth," "The Victorian Poets," "Poets of America," etc.
RICHARD HENRY STODDARD (born 1825). Poet and critic. Author of "The Late English Poets," "Loves and Heroines of the Poets," "The Dead Master," "Hymns to the Sea," etc.
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH (born 1836). A writer of interesting stories and lyric verse. Author of "Babie Bell," "The Face Against the Pane," and many society poems; also "The Story of a Bad Boy," "Marjorie Daw and Other People," "Prudence Palfrey," "Stillwater Tragedy," etc.
RICHARD WATSON GILDER (born 1844). Editor of the Century, and writer of polished verse. First volume of poetry, "The New Day," appeared in 1875, followed by "The Celestial Passion," and "Lyrics."
FRANCIS BRET HARTE (born 1838). Editor, poet, and story-teller of the Rocky Mountains. "The Heathen Chinee" acquired for its author immediate fame. Among his numerous works may be mentioned "The Luck of Roaring Camp," "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," "Wiggles," "The Story of a Mine," "Maruja, a Novel," etc.
J. T. TROWBRIDGE (born 1827). A popular novelist and poet. Author of "Phil and His Friends," a story for boys, "Laurence's Adventures," "Coupon Bonds," etc. His best-known poems are "The Vagabonds," "The Charcoal-Man," and "Farmer John."
RICHARD GRANT WHITE (1821-1885). Shakespearian critic and scholar. Author of "Life of Shakespeare," "Words and their Uses," and "Every-Day English."
CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER (born 1829). Editor, critic, and essayist of rare humor and critical acumen. Has written "My Summer in a Garden," "Back-Log Studies," "Being a Boy," and other delightful sketches.
E. P. WHIPPLE (1819-1886). Lecturer and essayist. Wrote "Literature and Life," "Character and Characteristic Men," "The Literature of the Age of Elizabeth," etc.
JOHN FISKE (1842). Historian and philosopher. Chief works devoted to the study of the origin and progress of the human race. Author of "The Destiny of Man," "The Idea of God," "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy," etc.
JAMES FREEMAN CLARKE (1810-1888). Unitarian clergyman. Author of "Orthodoxy: its Truths and Errors," "Ten Great Religions, " and may other religious works of great excellence. In collaboration with Emerson and Channing he prepared the "Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli."
EDWARD EVERETT HALE (born 1822). Essayist, lecturer, historian, and preacher. Very active in all movements of reform. Well known abroad by his short stories, as well as several longer works. Author of "The Man Without a Country," "In His Name," "Ten Times One is Ten," etc.
FRANK R. STOCKTON (born 1834). A humorous and original writer of short stories. Author of "The Lady or the Tiger," "Tales out of School," for children, "Rudder Grange," "The Stories of the Three Burglars," "The Hundredth Man," etc.
F. MARION CRAWFORD (born 1854). Son of an American sculptor; resides in Italy. Our most popular novelist abroad. Author of "Mr. Isaacs," "A Roman Singer," and the Saracinesca trio, including "Saracinesca," "Sant' Ilario," and "Don Orsino."
ROSE TERRY COOKE (born 1827). Poet and story-writer. Author of "Happy Dodd," "Somebody's Neighbors," "The Sphinx's Children and Other People's," "Poems," etc.
MARGARET DELAND (born 1857). Author of "The Old Garden and Other Verses," "John Ward, Preacher," a popular novel dealing with theological questions, "Philip and His Wife," etc.
FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT (born 1849). A story-writer. Those most widely known are "That Lass o' Lowrie's," "A Fair Barbarian," "Little Lord Fauntleroy," "Sara Crewe," "Editha's Burglar," etc.
HJALMER HJORTH BOYESEN (1848-1896). A writer of verse and stories of Norwegian life. Principal works are "Gunnar, a Norse Romance," "Falconberg," "Ilka on the Hill-Top," etc.
LEWIS WALLACE (born 1827). Statesman, soldier, and writer of thrilling stories. Author of "The Fair God," "The Prince of India," and "Ben-Hur: a Tale of the Christ."
JULIAN HAWTHORNE (born 1846). Son of the great novelist. Among his novels are "Garth," "Prince Saroni's Wife," "Fortune's Fool," "Dust," etc. He has also written "Confessions and Criticisms," and "Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife: A Biography."
EDWARD PAYSON ROE (1838-1887). Clergyman and writer of popular but commonplace novels. Among them may be mentioned "Opening a Chestnut Burr," "Barriers Burned Away," "Nature's Serial Story," etc.
SARAH ORNE JEWETT (born 1849). Writer of stories treating chiefly of New England life and character. Some of her novels are "Deephaven," "Old Friends and New," "Country By-Ways," "A White Heron," etc.
ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS WARD (born 1844). Poet and story-writer. Among her numerous and excellent works are "Men, Women, and Ghosts," "The Story of Avis," "Old Maid's Paradise," "The Gates Ajar," "Beyond the Gates," etc.
CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON (1848-1894). Grandniece of Cooper, and popular writer of stories, sketches, and poems. Author of "Castle Nowhere," "Rodman the Keeper," "Anne," "East Angels," etc.
GEORGE W. CABLE (born 1844). Writes of Creole life. Author of "Old Creole Days," "Madame Delphine," "Bonaventure," "The Grandissimes," etc.
THOMAS NELSON PAGE (born 1853). A popular writer of negro-dialect stories. His best-known works are "In Ole Virginia," "Two Little Confederates," "Marse Chan," "Meh Lady," etc.
JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS (born 1848). Editor, and writer of negro folklore stories, "Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings," "Nights with Uncle Remus," "Free Joe," etc.
RICHARD MALCOLM JOHNSTON (Born 1822). Author of "The Dukesborough Tales," a series of short stories of Georgia "Cracker" life.
MARY NOAILLES MURFREE ("CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK") (born 1850). Writes of the mountaineers of Tennessee. Author of "The Prophet of the Great Smokey Mountains," "In the Tennessee Mountains," "In the Clouds," etc.
EDWARD EGGLESTON (born 1837). Preacher, historian, and novelist. Author of "The Hoosier Schoolmaster," "The Hoosier Schoolboy," "Roxy," "A History of Life in the United States," etc.
JOHN BURROUGHS (born 1837). Literary naturalist. Wrote "Wake Robin," "Winter Sunshine," "Indoor Studies," etc.
CHARLES F. BROWNE ("ARTEMUS WARD") (1834-1867). Comic lecturer, and author of "Artemus Ward, His Book," "Artemus Ward in London," etc.
SAMUEL L. CLEMENS ("MARK TWAIN") (born 1835). Humorist and story-writer. Author of "Innocents Abroad," "Roughing It," "A Tramp Abroad," "Tom Sawyer," etc.
HORACE E. SCUDDER (born 1838). Editor, and popular writer of works for children. Wrote "Seven Little People," "Dream Children," "Stories from My Attic," "The Bodley Books," etc.
A. D. T. WHITNEY (born 1824). Author of works for young people, including "A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life," "Faith Gartney's Girlhood," "We Girls," etc.
LOUISA M. ALCOTT (1832-1888). Author of "Little Women," "Little Men," "An Old-Fashioned Girl," "Jack and Jill," etc.
EUGENE FIELD (1850-1896). Journalist, story-writer , and poet. Author of "Culture's Garden," "A Little Book of Western Verse," "A Little Book of Profitable Tales," etc.
LOUISE CHANDLER MOULTON (born 1835). Story-writer, essayist, and poet. Principal works are "Bed-Time Stories," for children, "Swallow Flights, and Other Poems," "Juno Clifford," "Some Women's Hearts," etc.
JOHN ESTEN COOKE (1830-1886). Soldier, and author of a number of romances founded on early life in Virginia and on the events of the Civil War. Principal works are "Henry St. John," "Surrey of Eagle's Nest," "Hilt to Hilt," etc.
MARY V. TERHUNE ("MARION HARLAND") (born 1830). Editor, novelist, and writer on domestic economy. Her novels include "Alone," "Miriam," "Judith," etc.
AUGUSTA J. EVANS (born 1835). Southern novelist. Author of "St. Elmo," "Beulah," "Vashti," etc.
MARY A. DODGE ("GAIL HAMILTON") (1838-1896). A writer of much vigor. Author of "Woman's Wrongs," "Gala Days," "Country Living," "A New Atmosphere," etc.
ABRAM J. RYAN (1839-1886). A Catholic priest and poet. Author of a volume of "Poems," widely read in the South.
CINCINNATUS HEINE MILLER ("JOAQUIN MILLER"). (born 1841). "Poet of the Sierras." Has written many stories, sketches, and poems, chiefly "Songs of the Sierras," and "Songs of the Sun Lands."
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY (Born 1853). Commonly known as "The Hoosier Poet," his best poems being written in the Indiana or Hoosier dialect. Author of "The Old Swimmin' Hole," "The Boss Girl, and Other Sketches," "Character Sketches and Poems," etc.
CHARLES G. LELAND (born 1824). Author of many books on literary subjects, and a series of studies in German-American dialect called the "Hans Breitmann's Ballads."
WILL CARLETON (born 1845). Author of "Farm Ballads," "City Ballads," "Farm Legends," and "City Legends." Best-known pieces, "The New Organ," "Betsey and I are Out," etc.
SIDNEY LANIER (1842-1881). Critic, musician, and poet. Author of "Tiger-Lilies," a novel of the war, "The Science of English Verse," "The Marshes of Glynn," "Sunrise," "Corn," etc.
PAUL H. HAYNE (1831-1886). "The laureate of South Carolina," Wrote "Face to Face," "Love's Autumn," "Earth's Odors After Rain," etc.
MAURICE THOMPSON (born 1844). Critic, essayist, novelist, and poet. Author of "Songs of Fair Weather," "Sylvan Secrets," "Byways and Birdnotes," "A Tallahassee Girl," "A Fortnight of Folly," etc.
HENRY TIMROD (1829-1867). A writer of war lyrics, among them "A Mother's Wail," and "Spring."
ALICE CARY (1820-1870). A poet and prose writer. Author of "Thanksgiving," "Pictures of Memory," "The Bridal Veil," etc.
PHŒBE CARY (1825-1871). Sister of Alice Carey. Wrote many poems, but is best known as the author of the hymn "One Sweetly Solemn Thought."
HELEN HUNT JACKSON (1831-1885). Author of "Verses," and several delightful stories, including "Bits of Travel," "A Century of Dishonor," and "Ramona," a novel written in the interest of the Indian.
EMMA LAZARUS (1849-1887). Poet and novelist. Her most striking work is "The Dance to Death," a drama representing the persecution of the Jews in the twelfth century. Also wrote "Songs of a Semite," and "Alide," a romance.
MARGARET J. PRESTON. A story-writer and poet. Principal works are "Silverwood," a novel, "Old Songs and New," "Cartoons," "Colonial Ballads," etc.
LUCY LARCOM (1826-1893). From a mill-hand she rose to be teacher, editor, and poet. Wrote "Similitudes," "Childhood Songs," "Wild Roses from Cape Anne," etc.
CELIA THAXTER (1836-1894). Wrote of the sea. Author of "Among the Isles of Shoals" and "Drift-Weed," "Poems for Children," etc.
EDITH M. THOMAS (born 1854). A popular poet, and contributor to magazines. Wrote "A New Year's Masque, and Other Poems," "The Round Year," and "Lyrics and Sonnets."
There are many other writers that deserve mention here; but any attempt at completeness would extend this list too far.
From Henry C. Pancoast, An Introduction to American Literature.New York: Holt, 1898, pp. 314-316While New York has been thus prominent, New England has not lacked some notable writers in recent years, some of whom have been clearly leaders in the especial line to which they have devoted themselves. In fiction, New England life, particularly in the country districts and the smaller towns, has been portrayed with faithfulness and fidelity by such writers as Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Mary E. Wilkins. Arthur Sherburne Hardy has produced novels notable for their strength and finish of style. Blanche Willis Howard, whose entertaining story One Summer was most favorably received, has given us in Guenn, a story of artist life in Brittany, one of the strongest and most masterly works of fiction produced in America in recent years. JOHN FISKE has become widely known as a scientist and philosophical thinker, and more recently as one of our ablest writers on American history. The labors of a group of writers in this last-named field -- JUSTIN WINSOR (1831-1897), the author of a scholarly and elaborate history of America; HENRY ADAMS, HENRY CABOT LODGE, and others -- are too important to be passed over. Indeed it may be said here that outside of New England as well as within its limits an increasing attention to our country's history and institutions has been one of the distinctions of these later years. In the South the labors of Professor HERBERT B. ADAMS, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, have been instrumental in raising up a school of capable students and historians of our institutions and our past. The Middle States have given us the admirable works of Professor WOODROW WILSON, of Princeton University, and of JOHN BACH McMASTER, Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania.Returning to the later literature of New England, we find but little poetry of a high order compared to the fuller utterance of the preceding period. As Longfellow, Lowell, and the other great voices of the New England group have become silent, no new poets of equal genius have arisen, so far as can yet be discovered, to take their place. Yet even in poetry recent New England has not been wholly barren. CELIA THAXTER, whose life was passed on the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire, did some good work both in prose and verse, and some of her shorter poems, such as The Little Sandpiper and The Tryst, though slight, possess unmistakable poetic feeling. Another poet of later New England, EDWARD ROWLAND SILL (1841-1887), has enriched our literature with some sonnets and short poems of unusual power and depth of thought. Though born in Connecticut, the greater part of the productive period of Sill's life was spent in the far West. His early death in California cut short a career full of usefulness and promise. But while the mere accident of residence thus connected him with the West, he was essentially a New Englander from first to last. He was not an imitator of Emerson, -- indeed his verse has a distinctly individual note, -- but he expressed after his own fashion that inner spirit of New England that we find also in Emerson's verse. He has the same deep love of nature, and his work is pervaded by that high seriousness and philosophic depth which is characteristic alike of Emerson and of the would-be-emancipated Puritanism of which he was the representative. Sill left but little verse, yet he left enough to show us that in him we lost a true poet, filled with noble ideals of life and beauty, and endowed with the faculty of insight into the heart of things.
Jewett listed among prominent New England authors of short stories.
from Early History of Children's Books in New England, by Charles Welsh: pp. 147-161
The New England Magazine. New Series 20: 2 (April 1899): 147-161.
And it is the proud distinction of New England that well-nigh all that is best and most popular in American literature for children has been produced by her sons and daughters. It will be sufficient to cite such names as T. B. Aldrich, Louisa Alcott, John S. C. Abbott, W. T. Adams (Oliver Optic), Jane Andrews, Hezekiah Butterworth, Lydia Maria Child, C. C. Coffin, James Abbott Goodrich, E. E. Hale, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sarah Orne Jewett, Elijah Kellogg, H. W. Longfellow, Kirk Monroe, Laura E. (Howe) Richards, Horace E. Scudder, J. T. Trowbridge, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Eliza Orne White, Mary E. Wilkins and Charles Dudley Warner, to say nothing of a host of others. (148).
From "Books and Authors," The Living Age 227: 2935 (October 6, 1900), p. 71.
A new “creel” of Irish stories by Jane Barlow, entitled “From the Land of the Shamrock,” is promised by Dodd, Mead & Co. It will be awaited with pleasurable expectations by all who have enjoyed the charming humor and tenderness of Miss Barlow’s “Irish Idyls.” Miss Barlow is the Sarah Orne Jewett of Ireland.
William I. Cole, "Maine in Literature," The New England Magazine NS 22:6 (Aug 1900) pp. 726-743.
From p. 741
In South Berwick, situated near the dividing line between Maine and New Hampshire, Sarah Orne Jewett was born, grew up, and still passes much of her time. It is easy to believe that the region in which South Berwick lies, constituting as it does the border land between the country and the seashore, and including the old seaport towns of Kittery and Portsmouth, has furnished the background for many of her familiar stories of New England life and character. Where else but in Maine would one look, also, for "The Country of the Pointed Firs," with such scenery and people as she describes with so much faithfulness and delicacy? Thus even more closely than as the state of her birth is Miss Jewett identified with Maine through the successful pictures that she has given in her stories of its rural types and characteristic scenes.
From William Dean Howells, Literary Friends and Acquaintances: A Person Retrospect of American Authorship.
New York: Harper, 1901, Chapter 4: Literary Boston as I Knew It, pp. 117-118.
The literature of those great men was, if I may suffer myself the figure, the Socinian graft of a Calvinist stock. Their faith, in its varied shades, was Unitarian, but their art was Puritan. So far as it was imperfect -- and great and beautiful as it was, I think it had its imperfections -- it was marred by the intense ethicism that pervaded the New England mind for two hundred years, and that still characterizes it. They or their fathers had broken away from orthodoxy in the great schism at the beginning of the century, but, as if their heterodoxy were conscience-stricken, they still helplessly pointed the moral in all they did; some pointed it more directly, some less directly; but they all pointed it. I should be far from blaming them for their ethical intention, though I think they felt their vocation as prophets too much for their good as poets. Sometimes they sacrificed the song to the sermon, though not always, nor nearly always. It was in poetry and in romance that they excelled; in the novel, so far as they attempted it, they failed. I say this with the names of all the Bostonian group, and those they influenced, in mind, and with a full sense of their greatness. It may be ungracious to say that they have left no heirs to their peculiar greatness; but it would be foolish to say that they left an estate where they had none to bequeath. One cannot take account of such a fantasy as Judd's Margaret. The only New-Englander who has attempted the novel on a scale proportioned to the work of the New-Englanders in philosophy, in poetry, in romance, is Mr. De Forest, who is of New Haven, and not of Boston. I do not forget the fictions of Doctor Holmes, or the vivid inventions of Doctor Hale, but I do not call them novels; and I do not forget the exquisitely realistic art of Miss Jewett or Miss Wilkins, which is free from the ethicism of the great New England group, but which has hardly the novelists's scope. New England, in Hawthorne's work, achieved supremacy in romance; but the romance is always an allegory, and the novel is a picture in which the truth to life is suffered to do its unsermonized office for conduct; and New England yet lacks her novelist, because it was her instinct and her conscience in fiction to be true to an ideal of life rather than to life itself.
From William Dean Howells, "Some Anomalies of the Short Story."
North American Review 173 (September 1901): 422-432.
From parts V-VI, pp. 430-31.
It is here that the novella, so much more perfect in form, shows its irremediable inferiority to the novel, and somehow to the play, to the very farce, which it may quantitatively excel. We can all recall by name many characters out of comedies and farces; but how many characters out of short stories can we recall? Most persons of the drama give themselves away by name for types, mere figments of allegory, and perhaps oblivion is the penalty that the novella pays for the fineness of its characterizations; but perhaps, also, the dramatic form has greater facilities for repetition and so can stamp its persons more indelibly on the imagination than the narrative form in the same small space. The narrative must give to description what the drama trusts to representation; but this cannot account for the superior permanency of the dramatic types in so great measure as we might at first imagine, for they remain as much in mind from reading as from seeing the plays. It is possible that as the novella becomes more conscious, its persons will become more memorable; but as it is, though we now vividly and with lasting delight remember certain short stories, we scarcely remember by name any of the people in them. I may be risking too much in offering an instance, but who, in even such signal instances as "The Revolt of Mother," by Miss Wilkins, or "The Dulham Ladies," by Miss Jewett, can recall by name the characters that made them delightful.
The defect of the novella which we have been acknowledging seems an essential limitation; but perhaps it is not insuperable; and we may yet have short stories which shall supply the delighted imagination with creations of as much immortality as we can reasonable demand. The structural change would not be greater than the moral or material change which has been wrought in it since it began as a yarn, gross and palpable, which the narrator spun out of the coarsest and often the filthiest stuff, to snare the thick fancy or amuse the lewd leisure of listeners willing as children to have the same persons and the same things over and over again. Now it has not only varied the persons and things, but it has refined and verified them in the direction of the natural and the supernatural, until it is above all other literary forms the vehicle of reality and spirituality. When one thinks of a bit of Mr. James' psychology in this form, or a bit of Verga's or Kielland's sociology, or a bit of Miss Jewett's exquisite veracity, one perceives the immense distance which the short story has come on the way to the height it has reached. It serves equally the ideal and the real; that which it is loth to serve is the unreal, so that among the short stories which have recently made reputations for their authors, very few are of that peculiar cast which we have no name for but romanticistic. The only distinguished modern writer of romanticistic novelle whom I can think of is Mr. Bret Harte, and he is of a period when romanticism was so imperative as to be almost a condition of fiction. I am never so enamored of a cause that I will not admit facts that seem to tell against it, and I will allow that this writer of romanticistic short stories has more than any other supplied us with memorable types and characters. We remember Mr. John Oakhurst by name; we remember "Kentuck" and "Tennessee's Partner," at least by nickname; and we remember their several qualities. These figures, if we cannot quite consent that they are persons, exist in our memories by force of their creator's imagination, and at the moment I cannot think of any others that do, out of the myriad of American short stories, except Rip Van Winkle out of Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and Marjorie Daw out of Mr. Aldrich's famous little caprice of that title, and Mr. James' Daisy Miller.
From William Dean Howells, Puritanism in Fiction, in Literature and Life: Studies.
New York: Harper's, 1902, pp. 278-283.
THE question whether the fiction which gives a vivid impression of reality does truly represent the conditions studied in it, is one of those inquiries to which there is no very final answer. The most baffling fact of such fiction is that its truths are self-evident; and if you go about to prove them you are in some danger of shaking the convictions of those whom they have persuaded. It will not do to affirm anything wholesale concerning them; a hundred examples to the contrary present themselves if you know the ground, and you are left in doubt of the verity which you cannot gainsay. The most that you can do is to appeal to your own consciousness, and that is not proof to anybody else. Perhaps the best test in this difficult matter is the quality of the art which created the picture. Is it clear, simple, unaffected? Is it true to human experience generally? If it is so, then it cannot well be false to the special human experience it deals with.
Not long ago I heard of something which amusingly, which pathetically, illustrated the sense of reality imparted by the work of one of our writers, whose art is of the kind I mean. A lady was driving with a young girl of the lighter-minded civilization of New York through one of those little towns of the North Shore in Massachusetts, where the small, wooden houses cling to the edges of the shallow bay, and the schooners slip in and out on the hidden channels of the salt meadows as if they were blown about through the tall grass. She tried to make her feel the shy charm of the place, that almost subjective beauty, which those to the manner born are so keenly aware of in old-fashioned New England villages; but she found that the girl was not only not looking at the sad-colored cottages, with their weather-worn shingle walls, their grassy door-yards lit by patches of summer bloom, and their shutterless windows with their close-drawn shades, but she was resolutely averting her eyes from them, and staring straightforward until she should be out of sight of them altogether. She said that they were terrible, and she knew that in each of them was one of those dreary old women, or disappointed girls, or unhappy wives, or bereaved mothers, she had read of in Miss Wilkins's stories.
She had been too little sensible of the humor which forms the relief of these stories, as it forms the relief of the bare, duteous, conscientious, deeply individualized lives portrayed in them; and no doubt this cannot make its full appeal to the heart of youth aching for their stoical sorrows. Without being so very young, I, too, have found the humor hardly enough at times, and if one has not the habit of experiencing support in tragedy itself, one gets through a remote New England village, at nightfall, say, rather limp than otherwise, and in quite the mood that Miss Wilkins's bleaker studies leave one in. At mid-day, or in the bright sunshine of the morning, it is quite possible to fling off the melancholy which breathes the same note in the fact and the fiction; and I have even had some pleasure at such times in identifying this or that one-story cottage with its lean-to as a Mary Wilkins house and in placing one of her muted dramas in it. One cannot know the people of such places without recognizing her types in them, and one cannot know New England without owning the fidelity of her stories to New England character, though, as I have already suggested, quite another sort of stories could be written which should as faithfully represent other phases of New England village life.
To the alien inquirer, however, I should be by no means confident that their truth would evince itself, for the reason that human nature is seldom on show anywhere. I am perfectly certain of the truth of Tolstoy and Tourguénief to Russian life, yet I should not be surprised if I went through Russia and met none of their people. I should be rather more surprised if I went through Italy and met none of Verga's or Fogazzaro's, but that would be because I already knew Italy a little. In fact, I suspect that the last delight of truth in any art comes only to the connoisseur who is as well acquainted with the subject as the artist himself. One must not be too severe in challenging the truth of an author to life; and one must bring a great deal of sympathy and a great deal of patience to the scrutiny. Types are very backward and shrinking things, after all; character is of such a mimosan sensibility that if you seize it too abruptly its leaves are apt to shut and hide all that is distinctive in it; so that it is not without some risk to an author's reputation for honesty that he gives his readers the impression of his truth.
The difficulty with characters in fiction is that the reader there finds them dramatized; not only their actions, but also their emotions are dramatized; and the very same sort of persons when one meets them in real life are recreantly undramatic. One might go through a New England village and see Mary Wilkins houses and Mary Wilkins people, and yet not witness a scene nor hear a word such as one finds in her tales. It is only too probable that the inhabitants one met would say nothing quaint or humorous, or betray at all the nature that she reveals in them; and yet I should not question her revelation on that account. The life of New England, such as Miss Wilkins deals with, and Miss Sarah O. Jewett, and Miss Alice Brown, is not on the surface, or not visibly so, except to the accustomed eye. It is Puritanism scarcely animated at all by the Puritanic theology. One must not be very positive in such things, and I may be too bold in venturing to say that while the belief of some New-Englanders approaches this theology the belief of most is now far from it; and yet its penetrating individualism so deeply influenced the New England character that Puritanism survives in the moral and mental make of the people almost in its early strength. Conduct and manner conform to a dead religious ideal; the wish to be sincere, the wish to be just, the wish to be righteous are before the wish to be kind, merciful, humble. A people are not a chosen people for half a dozen generations without acquiring a spiritual pride that remains with them long after they cease to believe themselves chosen. They are often stiffened in the neck and they are often hardened in the heart by it, to the point of making them angular and cold; but they are of an inveterate responsibility to a power higher than themselves, and they are strengthened for any fate. They are what we see in the stories which, perhaps, hold the first place in American fiction.
As a matter of fact, the religion of New England is not now so Puritanical as that of many parts of the South and West, and yet the inherited Puritanism stamps the New England manner, and differences it from the manner of the straightest sects elsewhere. There was, however, always a revolt against Puritanism when Puritanism was severest and securest; this resulted in types of shiftlessness if not wickedness, which have not yet been duly studied, and which would make the fortune of some novelist who cared to do a fresh thing. There is also a sentimentality, or pseudo-emotionality (I have not the right phrase for it), which awaits full recognition in fiction. This efflorescence from the dust of systems and creeds, carried into natures left vacant by the ancestral doctrine, has scarcely been noticed by the painters of New England manners. It is often a last state of Unitarianism, which prevailed in the larger towns and cities when the Calvinistic theology ceased to be dominant, and it is often an effect of the spiritualism so common in New England, and, in fact, everywhere in America. Then, there is a wide-spread love of literature in the country towns and villages which has in great measure replaced the old interest in dogma, and which forms with us an author's closest appreciation, if not his best. But as yet little hint of all this has got into the short stories, and still less of that larger intellectual life of New England, or that exalted beauty of character which tempts one to say that Puritanism was a blessing if it made the New-Englanders what they are; though one can always be glad not to have lived among them in the disciplinary period. Boston, the capital of that New England nation which is fast losing itself in the American nation, is no longer of its old literary primacy, and yet most of our right thinking, our high thinking, still begins there, and qualifies the thinking of the country at large. The good causes, the generous causes, are first befriended there, and in a wholesome sort the New England culture, as well as the New England conscience, has imparted itself to the American people.
Even the power of writing short stories, which we suppose ourselves to have in such excellent degree, has spread from New England. That is, indeed, the home of the American short story, and it has there been brought to such perfection in the work of Miss Wilkins, of Miss Jewett, of Miss Brown, and of that most faithful, forgotten painter of manners, Mrs. Rose Terry Cook, that it presents upon the whole a truthful picture of New England village life in some of its more obvious phases. I say obvious because I must, but I have already said that this is a life which is very little obvious; and I should not blame any one who brought the portrait to the test of reality, and found it exaggerated, overdrawn, and unnatural, though I should be perfectly sure that such a critic was wrong.
From Lorenzo Sears, American Literature in the Colonial and National Period.
Boston, Little, Brown, and Company (1902), pp. 414-415
New England Writers.
Of New England peculiarities and dialect there have been many portrayers. Given to literary enterprises the province has not failed to ransack its own neighborhood to find material for fiction. The back country has been as thoroughly explored for quaint characters and queer words as for old clocks and chairs. Hard and sharp men and women, clinging to remote traditions and mispronunciations, not because they do not know better, but for fear of being inconsistent and new-fangled, have been shown up in striking contrast to shiftless neighbors who have been born tired of the two-century strain after primness. No one has done this better than Miss Wilkins in her books and sketches of a frosty life, which she did not have to go far to find. A richer and more mellow town life has been depicted in appropriate colors by Miss Jewett in numerous books, which exhibit the variety that exists in character, cultivation, and manner of living in a province which is fast becoming unprovincial. This larger life, dealing with vital issues and progressive ideas, enters into the work of other writers who deserve more extended mention, notably Rose Terry Cooke, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Louisa May Alcott, and others beside.
So also in all the circuit of prairie, coast, and mountain there are writers who stand near the great colorists that have been enumerated, each depicting the group he knows best, and all contributing to a wide and picturesque view of cosmopolitan life on the continent. Fireside travellers may traverse it from the northern lakes to the southern gulf and from ocean to ocean in a local fiction, which has been made so faithful to scenery, dialect, and character that the wide reader should know any state if carried into it blindfolded as soon as he has eyes to see and ears to hear. He might not be as certain of his ground as the Nantucket skipper was of "Marm Hackett's garden," but he ought to "guess" or "allow" or "reckon" where he is within five hundred miles, when he hears these provincialisms and others like them. A few samples of soil are offered on which the reader of local fiction can test his skill.
From Charles Dudley Warner, editor, Library of the World's Best Literature.
New York: Hill, 1902, vol. 21, pp. 8269-71.
SARAH ORNE JEWETT
THE deeds of young authors, like the deeds of young soldiers, are a continual surprise to the mature. We forget that characters and situations which pass before us unheeded from their very familiarity, strike the apprehension of youth from their very novelty.
Sarah Orne Jewett was born in South Berwick, Maine, in 1849; a product of the best New England birth and breeding. Besides the usual school training, she received a deeper culture from her father, a physician and a man of wide attainments and keen observation. A country doctor, he had to make excursions inland and along-shore to visit his scattered patients; and the young girl sitting beside him learned to know the characters she was to immortalize in literature, as she knew the landscape and the sky. She was a girl not past her youth when her first book, 'Deephaven,' was published in 1877. This was a story of New England life, told in the form of an autobiography; and slight as it was in incident, betrayed a breadth and a refinement which seemed to come from careful training, but which were really the unerring product of a genuine gift for literature, kindled by the observation of a fresh mind and an affectionate sympathy.
The effect upon her many readers was like the gift of sight to the blind. Frequenters of the town – for 'Deephaven' stands for any fisher village on the Maine coast – recollected having seen "Mrs. Bonny" searching for a tumbler, the meek widow with the appearance of a black beetle and the wail of a banshee, the funeral procession on its sad journey, the Captains, the interesting ladies "Mrs. Kew" and "Mrs. Dockum." 'Deephaven' was followed by a series of stories, all breathing forth an air of calm leisure that in its avoidance of hurry or catastrophe suggests the almost forgotten note of Goldsmith and Irving.
Miss Jewett's portrayal of character, habits, traits, speech, was all perfectly true, although drawn from that very rural and village New England life which other writers, clever and merciless, had convinced the world to be wholly sordid and melancholy. With wider comprehension, she showed that there are differing points of view of any given conditions, and that a life in these pinched and narrow surroundings may be as complex as affair as one passed in the heart of London. Her patriotic and kindly part was to portray it with a good deal of horizon, a clear sky, and vital human interest.
Her gift has been exercised, for the most part, in the field in which America has only France as her rival, -- that of the short story. She has written one novel, 'A Country Doctor'; -- for 'Deephaven' is a series of figures, landscapes, and interiors, rather than a woven scheme. Perhaps the rare intuition which taught her the secrets of her shy reserved characters, revealed to her that her strength does not lie in the constructive power which holds in its grasp varied and complex interests, terminating in an inevitable conclusion.
A simple incident suffices for her machinery; her local color is a part of the substance of her creation, not imposed upon it, and no more than Hawthorne does she seem to be conscious of the necessity of making it a setting for her figures. She writes of that into which she was born; and her creations – even when they are in such foreign settings as Irish-American life, in the inimitable stories 'The Luck of the Bogans [The Brogans],' 'Between Mass and Vespers,' and 'A Little Captive Maid' – glow with that internal personality which is never counterfeited, as has been said of Hawthorne's 'Marble Faun.'
The emotion of love as a passion, the essential of a novel, is almost absent from her sketches; or, treated as one of many other emotions and principles, has a certain originality due to its abstemiousness. Life indeed, as portrayed by her, proceeds so exactly as it would naturally proceed, that when the incident has been told, and the quiet, veracious talk has been retailed, the story comes to an end because it could not go on without being a different story. This method would not do for a novel: and yet, little composition as there seems to be about them, Miss Jewett's stories are as delicately constructed, with as true a method and as perfect a knowledge of technique, as Guy de Maupassant's; and they are permeated with a humor he never knew. "It is not only the delightful mood in which these little masterpieces are written," says Mr. Howells of 'The King of Folly Island,' "but the perfect artistic restraint, the truly Greek temperance without one touch too much, which render them exquisite, make them perfect in their way."
Her lovely spirit, sweet and compassionate, is a tacit appeal for the characters at which her humor bids us smile. Her people are introduced sitting in their quiet New England homes, going about their small affairs: housewives, captains unseaworthy through time or stress of weather, the village schoolmistress or seamstress, the old soldier, the heroine with blue eyes and rosy cheeks, walking through the scene without one fluttering ribbon of coquetry, -- all these appear with as little grouping as if we had walked into "Deephaven" or "Winby" itself. With perfect sympathy she takes under her protection all those whom irreverence or thoughtlessness had flouted, or whom personal peculiarities have made ridiculous. With her we are amused by their quaintness; but human nature, even forlorn and fallen human nature, is dignified into its true likeness under her serene and compassionate touch. Her charm is the charm which Richard Dale [Dole] found in "A Marsh Island," where he was so willingly a prisoner; and is that which comes from the view of a landscape, broad, unaccented, lying under a summer sky, breathing the fragrance of grass and wild flowers. It does not invite criticism any more than it deprecates close scrutiny.
If artist may be compared with artist, Miss Jewett may be described as a water-colorist; her sketches resting for their value not upon dramatic qualities or strong color, but upon their pure tone and singleness of effort. And she is not sensibly in her story, any more than a painter is in his picture. It is in this that her engaging modesty and admirable self-restraint lie.
Miss Jewett is the author of a dozen volumes of fiction, among the more important of which are – 'A Marsh Island' (1885); 'A White Heron and Other Stories' (1886); 'The King of Folly Island, and Other People' (1888); 'Strangers and Wayfarers' (1890); 'A Native of Winby, and Other Tales' (1893); 'The Life of Nancy' (1895); and 'The Country of the Pointed Firs,' 1896.
From E. F. Hawkins and C. H. L. Johnston. Little Pilgrimages Among Women Who Have Written Famous Books.Boston: Page, 1902, pp. 43-58
SARAH ORNE JEWETT
ONCE upon a time some critic found a resemblance between Miss Jewett and one of the old Flemish painters -- found a resemblance between her stories and the groups of Jan van Eyck or Roger van der Weyden. He was a discerning critic, for her stories and the old masters' pictures are alike in many respects. They have a reality that is quite photographic, and yet they suggest a strong imagination. Their purity is remarkable, and yet their atmosphere is very earthly.
Better still, however, it seems to us, it would be to say that there is a strong resemblance between Miss Jewett and Jean Francois Millet. They both have dignified the meek and the lowly; they both have exhibited the tenderest sympathy with the plain sons of Adam and Eve that live far from the madding crowd; they both have done this noble and ennobling work enthusiastically yet unaffectedly, modestly but, ah! how artistically. They that take pleasure in "The Angelus," will take pleasure also in "Deephaven." Millet, too, knew his characters intimately; he had struggled and suffered like them. From such painful strenuousness Miss Jewett fortunately has been able to keep aloof, for Barbizon is not like South Berwick, and the French peasants would say that the countryfolk of Maine lived royally. But we have heard it said that Miss Jewett is like her books, and that in ten minutes she unconsciously tells you how she writes them.
Kate Sanborn once essayed a description of her friend and contemporary, in which she observed: "I feel a certain shrinking from attempting a personal sketch of this gifted woman, whom we all love for her absolutely perfect pictures of New England life." Anyone who essays the description must feel as Kate Sanborn felt, and yet, in such a case, a sketch poorly or inadequately done is better than no sketch at all. The lesson will be present, if not the eloquence. The old Flemish painters made portraits of themselves, but as yet, we hardly need say, Miss Jewett has given us no sketch of herself.
Sarah Orne Jewett was born at South Berwick, Maine, on September 3, 1849. Her father was Dr. Theodore Herman Jewett, a physician of no small renown; her mother was the daughter of Dr. Perry of Exeter, another physician well-known in central New England during the middle of the last century. The house in which she was born is still standing, although it was built far back in the eighteenth century, and it still excites the author's warmest affection. "I was born here," she said, as she stood in its panelled hall a few years ago, "and I hope to die here, leaving the lilac bushes still green and growing, and all the chairs in their places."
You will meet glimpses of Miss Jewett's father in "A Country Doctor," but the nearest and clearest glimpse is in his daughter's personal sketch of him:
"My father had inherited from his father an amazing knowledge of human nature, and from his mother's French ancestry that peculiarly French trait called gaieté de cœur. Through all the heavy responsibilities and anxieties of his busy professional life, this kept him young at heart and cheerful. His visits to his patients were often made delightful and refreshing to them by his kind heart, and the charm of his personality. I knew many of the patients whom he used to visit in lonely inland farms or on the sea-coast in York and Wells. I used to follow him about silently, like an undemanding little dog, content to follow at his heels. I had no consciousness of watching or listening, or indeed of any special interest in the country interiors. In fact, when the time came that my own world of imagination was more real to me than any other, I was sometimes perplexed at my father's directing my attention to certain points of interest in the characters or surroundings of our acquaintances. I cannot help believing that he recognized, long before I did myself, in what direction the current of purpose in my life was setting. Now as I write my sketches of country life, I remember again and again the wise things he said, and the sights he made me see. He was impatient only with affectation and insincerity."
Miss Jewett was a delicate child, and, consequently, was encouraged by her father to spend much of her time outdoors; and outdoors she formed her extraordinarily intimate acquaintance with nature and with the inhabitants of the Agamenticus region. She played even more eagerly than did the other children of the town, but when she went to school she readily outstripped her classmates. It is said that at the academy she found verse easy and prose difficult, but such conditions are not unusual. Youth takes naturally to rhymes and to games.
Once someone inquired of the author of "A Country Doctor" when the literary bent took possession of her. "I can scarcely say anything about that," she answered, "for I began to write so early. But my first serious encouragement was the acceptance of a short story by The Atlantic Monthly when I was between nineteen and twenty years old." That story was "Mr. Bruce," published in December, 1869.
We believe that Miss Jewett was about fourteen when she wrote "Lucy Garrow's [Garron's] Lovers." Between that age and the age when she was welcomed to The Atlantic Monthly she published little sketches in Young Folks and in The Riverside. Her first great popular success was "Deephaven," which appeared in 1877.
"Popular success" however, hardly expresses the reception of "Deephaven." "Artistic success" might be a fitter expression. The fact is, Miss Jewett's works are not popular, as Miss Johnston's, say, are popular. James Russell Lowell used the right words when, shortly before his death, he wrote to the London publishers of the New England author's books: "I am very glad to hear that Miss Jewett's delightful stories are to be reprinted in England. Nothing more pleasingly characteristic of rural life in New England has been written, and they have long been valued by the judicious here."
The same might be said to-day – "they have long been valued by the judicious here." No writer has a more devoted, more admiring public than the Bostonian. For we may call her a Bostonian, notwithstanding her loyalty to Berwick or Barwick, as the natives say. During the last quarter of a century she has been the almost inseparable companion of Mrs. James T. Fields, who loves Boston no less than the "judicious" Bostonians love and respect her. Back in 1882 the serene and noble Whittier addressed a sonnet to them as they set sail for Europe -- a sonnet interesting to quote:
Outbound your bark awaits you. Were I oneWhose prayer availeth much, my wish would beYour favoring trade wind and consenting sea.By sail or steed was never love outrun,And, here or there, love follows her in whomAll graces and sweet charities unite,The old Greek beauty set in holier light;And her for whom New England's byways bloom,Who walks among us welcome as the spring,Calling up blossoms where her light feet stray.God keep you both, make beautiful your way;Comfort, console and bless; and safely bring,Ere yet I wake upon a vaster seaThe unreturning voyage, my friends to me.
Whittier was accustomed to attend Friends' meetings in Berwick, and it was in the old town that he, typical of the old New England literary traditions, and Miss Jewett, the type of the newer, made each other's acquaintance! The sweet poet was greatly pleased by "Deephaven," and he heartily interested himself in its writers['] progress until he died.
Miss Jewett divides her time between Boston, Berwick and Manchester-by-the-Sea -- the same Manchester that prompted Dr. Holmes to write "Beverly-by-the-Depot." The larger part of her literary work is done in the old Maine settlement, to whose name, by the way, no South was prefixed originally. Plain Berwick it was known as in the lively, picturesque days, when bronze-faced sailors rolled barrels of rum up and boxes of tobacco and stranger wares down the north Atlantic wharves. From one who visited her in Maine a few years ago we gather this description of the Jewett homestead:
"It seems as if one had no right to say so much about a house which is a home. And yet New England has few like this, and it is a part of her brave history. There are few such broad, high halls, arched and panelled; few such wide stairways with carved and polished railings, few such quaint gilded mirrors and antique portraits and last century bedsteads with white canopies. . . Behind the house is a big old-fashioned garden, and every room is sweet with posies. There is a stable, too, for Miss Jewett loves her horses, and drives almost daily over the green hills . . . of the beautiful coast of Maine. She is an oars-woman as well, and her boat knows every reach of the river and all its quiet sunlit groves. . . Miss Jewett's "den" is the most delightful I have ever seen. It is in the upper hall, with a window looking down upon a tree-shaded village street. A desk strewn with papers is on one side, and on the other a case of books and a table. Pictures, flowers and books are everywhere. The room set apart for the library is one of the four great square ones downstairs. But the books overflow it. They lie upon the sofas, and have shelves in the bedrooms. It is the house of a woman who studies, Scott, particularly. . . "The busier I get," she said, "the more time I make to read the Waverley novels."
Mention of the "den" brings us up to Miss Jewett's method of working. She has moods; she does not make writing a set daily task, with so many pages to be done at a certain hour, as a Haverstraw laborer would have so many bricks. We have heard it said that sometimes her day's work amounts to eight or ten thousand words. That indeed would be a prodigious effort. Marion Crawford is one of the swiftest writers we ever heard of, and his ordinary limit is six thousand words a day. Possibly the truth about Miss Jewett's industry has been exaggerated. More reasonable is the statement that while engaged on a novel she pens from two to four thousand words a day. Between books she enjoys periods of physical recreation and literary construction.
"Of your own books, which do you like best?" Miss Jewett was once asked.
"They're a pretty large family now," and she smiled. "There are always personal reasons, you know, and associations that may influence one's judgment. I don't think I have a favorite. In some ways I like 'A Country Doctor' best, and yet I believe 'A Marsh Island' is a better story."
Her latest work, "A Tory Lover," was concluded in The Atlantic Monthly last August, two months after Bowdoin College had bestowed upon her the degree of Doctor of Letters.
"I have only written," she said to a literary brother a few years ago, "about what I knew and felt. In giving any idea of the influences which have shaped my literary life, I must go back to the surroundings of my childhood, and to those friends who first taught me to observe and to know the deep pleasures of simple things, and to be interested in simple and humble lives. I was born in an old colonial house in South Berwick, which was built about 1750. My grandfather had been a sea-captain but retired early and engaged more or less in the flourishing shipping trade of that time. This business in all its branches, was still in existence in my early childhood, and so I came into contact not only with the farming and up country people, but with sailors and shipmasters and lumbermen as well. I used to linger about the country stores and listen to the shrewd and often witty country talk, and I delighted in hearing of the ships which came to port, and in seeing the sea-tanned captains, who sometimes dined with my grandfather and talked of their voyages and bargains at the Barbadoes and Havana. And so I came to know directly a good deal about a fashion of life which is now almost entirely a thing of the past in New England."
"Art, you know," she said to the same man, as they sat discussing her Yankee and Irish-American sketches, "always begins with a recognition of the grotesque and unusual in life -- the mere superficial aspects of character and habit. All literature in the beginning is in relation to the lower forms of pictorial art -- it views life from the pictorial side almost exclusively. As art goes higher it recognizes facts, and then the pathetic in the ludicrous. The distinction of modern literature is the evocation of sympathy. . . . Plato said: 'The best thing that can be done for the people of a state is to make them acquainted with each other'; and that is what I conceive to be the business of a story writer."
Miss Jewett is rather tall and perfectly dignified, but her dignity is warmed by her uncommon graciousness and by the charming brightness of her face. As her father had, surely she also has this true French gaieté de cœur. It should by this time be hardly necessary to say that flashes of wit and wisdom characterize her conversation, and that, in short, she is one of the rarest ornaments of the most cultured circle of Boston society.
From Ernest A. Baker, M.A. (Lond.), A DESCRIPTIVE GUIDE TO THE BEST FICTION, BRITISH AND AMERICAN
Swan Sonnenschein and Co., Lim., London
The MacMillian Co., New York (1903).
JEWETT, SARAH ORNE [b. 1849].
Deephaven. 1877. The old-world inhabitants of a decayed seaport in New England, viewed by a pair of girls making holiday there, who laugh at the quaint old people. [$1.25, 50?. Houghton,Boston. Illustrated: $2.50 Houghton, Boston (7/6 Harper, London), 1893.]
Country By-Ways. 1881.
Fragments of reminiscences, glimpses of New England life and human nature, full of rest and of the placid charm of home and homely affection. [$1.25 Houghton, Boston.]
The Mate of the Daylight; and Friends Ashore. 1884.
Character sketches and studies, some arranged around little incidents, some merely bits of still life. A Landless Farmer is a lowly New England King Lear; An Only Son, a piece of restrained emotion; The New Parishioner, similar in quiet interest. [$1.25 Houghton, Boston.]
A Country Doctor. 1884.
A Marsh Island. 1885.
A White Heron. 1886.
Simple stories of quiet and beautiful life in rural New England, portraits of old acquaintances, and interpretations of the kindly side of the Puritan character. [Each $1.25 Houghton, Boston.]
Strangers and Wayfarers. 1890.
The Town Poor, The Luck of the ?ogans, A Winter Courtship, By the Morning Boat, etc. Similar portraiture of New England folk, native types and new-comers like the Irish; all pervaded with a gentle and charitable humour. [$1.25 Houghton, Boston; 5/- Harper, London.]
A Native of Winby; and other Tales. 1893.
Pregnant situations, evoking characteristics of temperament, rather than stories; e.g., The Native relates the visit of a successful man, half shamefaced, half in self-display, to his native village; Decoration Day, a study of patriotic emotion; The Passing of Sister Barsett, a typical piece of New England life; and two sketches of Irish New Englanders, in which the broad speech accentuates the humour. [$1.25 Houghton, Boston.]
The Country of the Pointed Firs. 1896.
More studies -- made in a summer holiday at a seaside village in Maine -- of homely and old- fashioned characters, venerable old people who have kept the freshness and innocence of youth; shy, unsophisticated men; women immersed in household cares; quaint originals, full of old-world graces, like the weather-beaten captain with his story of a spirit-city within the Arctic Circle, the old gatherer of simples, and other childlike Wordsworthian figures. [$1.25 Houghton, Boston; 5/- Unwin.]
The Queen's Twin; and other Stories. 1899.
Title-story describes a visit to an old woman in Maine, whose life has points of coincidence with Queen Victoria's. All the tales show the same reverent delight in quaint and gentle types of humanity. The sayings of the Irish women are humorous, and the dialect is particularly racy. [$1.25 Houghton, Boston; 5/- Smith & Elder.]
The Tory Lover. 1901.
A love tale of the time of the War of Independence, introducing the vigorous personality of the redoubtable Paul Jones. [6/- Smith & Elder.]
From Josephine Daskam Bacon, "Is American Literature Bourgeois?" The North American Review 179:572 (July 1904), p. 110.
To what does Mrs. Atherton attribute the immense vogue of Mary Wilkins? Not to the information she gave us of the New England character. She did not discover this field. To say nothing of Mrs. Stowe in her generation, Miss Sarah Orne Jewett before Miss Wilkins, and Miss Alice Brown after her, have given us a saner, better balanced, more sympathetic treatment of New England life and spirit; in many cases, too, through the medium of a richer, more cultivated style, a maturer diction, than the author of A New England Nun.
From Richard Burton, Literary Leaders of America. Lothrop Publishing Company, Boston (1904), p. 314.
In the United States since 1860, there has been a remarkable growth and perfecting of the novel of real life -- realistic fiction, in the critical phrase. In the middle century, Harriet Beecher Stowe, besides writing in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" an epoch-making book, vital in power, whatever its defects and prejudices, initiated in her other stories a faithful first-hand study of homely New England character, which has been fruitfully developed by an able band of later-day followers with Miss Wilkins and Miss Jewett at their head. The names throng here and cannot be enumerated. Two leaders, however, must have special mention: Howells and James, for they, more than any others, started the present-day school.
From Brander Matthews, "Literature in the New Century." The North American Review 179:575 (October 1904), p. 523.
The segregation of nationality has been accompanied by an increasing interest in the several states out of which the nation has made itself, and sometimes even by an effort to raise the dialects of these provinces up to the literary standard of the national language. In this there is no disloyalty to the national ideal, -- rather it is to be taken as a tribute to the nation, since it seeks to call attention again to the several strands twined in the single bond. In literature this tendency is reflected in a wider liking for local color and in an intense relish for the flavor of the soil. We find Verga painting the violent passions of the Sicilians, and Reuter depicting the calmer joys of the Platt-Deutsch. We see Maupassant etching the canny and cautious Normans, while Daudet brushed in broadly the expansive exuberance of the Provençals. We delight alike in the Wessex-folk of Mr. Hardy and in the humerous Scots of Mr. Barrie. We extend an equal welcome to the patient figures of New England spinsterhood as drawn by Miss Jewett and Miss Wilkins, and to the virile Westerners set boldly on their feet by Mr. Wister and Mr. Garland.
from Charles F. Richardson, American Literature 1607-1885
New York: Putnam, 1904.
The lesser novelists of America, in the second literary period, found their themes in American characters, scenes, and historic episodes; in imaginary adventures of foreign travel; in ancient history, and in sentiment or politics. One Northerner endeavored to crystallize the spirit of New England thought and life in a romance at once idyllic and religious; and one Southerner painted for the nineteenth century certain phases of the picturesque life of the old régime in eighteenth-century Virginia. From out this period of activity in lesser fiction there also stands forth, in vivid isolation that may diminish but cannot wholly disappear, the potent name of that individual and characteristic story which was one of the causes of Northern triumph in the war that freed the slave. On the whole, however, the period was characterized by the decline of the Indian romantic novel; the rise and collapse of the sweeter or more superficial sentimentalism in prose; and the comparative failure of the attempt to delineate American home life in various sections; for it cannot be claimed that the writers before the war produced much that equalled the folk-pictures or character sketches given later by Miss Jewett, Miss Phelps, Miss Woolson, Eggleston, Bret Harte, "Charles Egbert Craddock," or Cable.
New England itself, already old, sometimes conventional, and not previously destitute of authors of ability, has been newly painted by several of these later writers. Sarah O. Jewett portrays the ancient, decadent, respectable, gentle, and winsome seaboard town, and tells of the life therein. The courtly old lady in black lace cap and mitts, living in a great square house with a hall running from door to door, and rich in mahogany and cool quiet; the New England girl of the better class, well educated, of good descent, and sufficiently aware of the proprieties of life, yet fresh, happy, and fond of a "good time" -- these two figures are alone worth more, as contributions to fiction, than any artificial portrayals of the "sparkling," sensational, or satirical talking-machines which are sometimes supposed to represent American life. In the New England which Miss Jewett so pleasantly and faithfully portrays, are self-respecting people, aristocratic in the only true sense; bringing up their daughters in freedom, and yet in homes, modestly but not conventually; speaking the good English which their ancestors brought from old England two centuries ago; and making, as well as finding," life worth living."
Naturalism, by which term Miss Jewett's general method may be fitly described, also characterizes the literary work of other New England women. Thus, for instance, let him who would know the real Yankee -- Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde -- read such grimly humorous stories as "Freedom Wheeler's Controversy with Providence," "Miss Lucinda," or "The Deacon's Week," by Rose Terry Cooke. The longer and shorter stories of Miss Elizabeth Stuart Phelps are more intense than those of Miss Jewett; but they are also local in scene and color, and, like Mrs. Cooke's, are pervaded with a moral idea. Miss Phelps deals with stormier moods and with profounder aspirations, but the New England books of the three writers differ in selected type and intensity of tone rather than in kind. If it be said that Miss Phelps' glimpses of the unseen in "The Gates Ajar" and "Beyond the Gates" open a heaven that is little more than a reconstructed New England, and fail to portray adequately the tender human hopes and deep and true beliefs which lay in the author's mind, let it not be forgotten that hope and faith and sympathy, on the human side, find a fit expression in such stories of hers as "The Tenth of January," in which the tragedy of life and the tragedy of art combine, before the background of a New England factory town.
The most successful pictures of American characters and characteristic scenes, whether chosen from the east or the west, from city or from country, have unquestionably been presented in such short stories as those of Miss Jewett, Mrs. Cooke, Miss Phelps, or Mr. Deming rather than in long novels. Bret Harte is distinctly at his best in his brief stories and sketches, and at his worst in his larger books; Mr. Cable's "The Grandissimes" and "Doctor Sevier" are, at best, no more than equal to the separated studies of "Old Creole Days"; while Miss Murfree ("Charles Egbert Craddock"), an apparent exception, writes novelettes, or long-short stories, rather than novels. Others of the newer and younger Southern writers are sketchers, not romancers; and as we look at the whole field of the new American fiction we note excellence in the small, rather than any largeness of creative ability. But a short story, like a short poem, is as legitimate as a long one; and if our large and fine new creations in fiction are few indeed, at least we escape thereby the weariness of prolixity. The explanation is not far to seek: our broad and varied national life, from the Maine ship-builders to the Louisiana Creoles, from Miss Woolson's lake country to Miss Murfree's Tennessee mountains or Bret Harte's mines and gulches, affords as yet so abundant material for description that the literary painters naturally multiply portraits, and little groups of figures, and genre pictures, rather than inclusive or ideal scenes. One such sketch as "Peter the Parson," in Miss Woolson's "Castle Nowhere: Lake Country Sketches," is so true and therefore so valuable that I care not if the author's ambitious books, "Anne" and "East Angels," despite manifest touches of a strong hand, seem altogether unimportant in comparison. In "Peter the Parson" we have the cold, raw, scantling-and-boards life of a hateful little Philistine settlement in Michigan; but we have also high if mistaken religious devotion, the half-hopes and crushed possibilities of a real love, and a supreme self-sacrifice like that which lies at the very heart of Christianity -- and that is enough.
Barrett Wendell and Chester Noyes Greenough, A History of Literature in America, New York: Scribner's, 1904pp. 189-194
THE RENAISSANCE OF NEW ENGLAND
SOME GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF NEW ENGLAND
Early New England Life: On the history of New England, see the references at the head of Chapter iii of Book I and Chapter iii of Book II; many of these references concern New England life and manners. See also, on colonial and provincial life, J. R. Lowell, "New England Two Centuries Ago" (Wks., Riverside Edition, I); W. B. Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, 2 vols., Boston: Houghton, 1890; H. C. Lodge, A Short History of the English Colonies in America, New York: Harper, 1881, especially Chapter xxii; and the various books by Mrs. Alice Morse Earle.
Later New England Life: H. B. Stowe, Oldtown Folks, Boston, 1869; Whittier, Snow-Bound; Lowell, "Cambridge Thirty Years Ago" (Wks., Riverside Edition, I, 43-99); E. E. Hale, A New England Boyhood (Wks., Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1898-1901, VI, 1-208); and the various writings of Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Wilkins.
From the time, shortly after 1720, when Franklin left Boston, where Increase and Cotton Mather were still preaching, we have paid little attention to that part of the country. For during the seventy-two years which intervened between Cotton Mather's death and the nineteenth century, Boston was of less literary importance than it was before or than it has been since. To understand its revival, we must call to mind a little more particularly some general characteristics of New England.
Boston, whose geographical position has made it the principal city of that region, may be distinguished from most American cities by the fact that, comparatively speaking, it is not on the way anywhere. The main lines of travel from abroad to-day come to the port of New York. People bound thence for Washington proceed through Philadelphia and Baltimore; people bound westward are pretty sure to trend toward Chicago; people going southwest pass through St. Louis or New Orleans; people going around the world generally sail from San Francisco; but the only people who are apt to make the excursion from New York to Boston are those who do so for that purpose. Of course, the ease of intercommunication nowadays combines with several other causes to disguise this isolation of the capital city of New England. All the same, isolation really characterizes not only the city, but the whole region of which it is the natural centre.
This physical isolation was somewhat less pronounced when the English-speaking settlements in America were confined to the fringe of colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. Even then, however, a man proceeding by land from Boston to Philadelphia had to pass through New York; and so one proceeding from New York to Virginia or the Carolinas had to pass through Philadelphia; but the only people who needed to visit Boston were people bound thither. It had happened, meanwhile, that the regions of Eastern Massachusetts, although not literally the first American colonies to be settled, were probably the first to be politically and socially developed. Sewall's diary, for example, an artless record of busy life in and about Boston from 1674 to 1729, has few more remarkable traits than the fact that the surroundings and in many respects the society which it represents are hardly yet unfamiliar to people born and bred in Eastern New England.
In the first place, the whole country from the Piscataqua to Cape Cod, and westward to the Connecticut River, was almost as settled as it is to-day. Many towns of Sewall's time, to be sure, have been divided into smaller ones; but the name and the local organization of almost every town of his time still persist; in two hundred years the municipal outlines of Massachusetts have undergone hardly more change than any equal space of England or of France. In Sewall's time, again, the population of this region, though somewhat different from that which at present exists, was much like that which was lately familiar to anybody who can remember the New England country in 1860. It was homogeneous, and so generally native that any inhabitants but born Yankees attracted attention; and the separate towns were so distinct that any one who knew much of the country could probably infer from a man's name just where he came from. So isolated a region, with so indigenous a population, naturally developed a pretty rigid social system.
Tradition has long supposed this system to have been extremely democratic, as in some superficial aspect it was. The popular forms of local government which were early established, the general maintenance of schools in every town at public expense, and the fact that almost any respectable trade was held a proper occupation for anybody, have gone far to disguise the truth that from the very settlement of New England certain people there have enjoyed an often recognized position of social superiority. This Yankee aristocracy, to be sure, has never been strictly hereditary; with almost every generation old names have socially vanished and new ones appeared. Until well into the nineteenth century, however, two facts about New England society can hardly be questioned: at any given time there was a tacitly recognized upper class, sometimes described by the word "quality"; and although in the course of time most families had their ups and downs, such changes were never so swift or so radical as materially to alter the general social structure.
In the beginning, as Cotton Mather's old word, "theocracy" asserted, the socially and politically dominant class was the clergy. Until 1885, indeed, a relic of this fact survived in the Quinquennial Catalogues of Harvard College, where the names of all graduates who became ministers were still distinguished by italics. In the same catalogues, the names of graduates who became governors or judges, or in certain other offices attained public distinction, were printed in capital letters. These now trivial details indicate how the old social hierarchy of New England was based on education, public service, and the generally acknowledged importance of the ministry. When the mercantile class of the eighteenth century grew rich, it enjoyed in Boston a similar distinction, maintained by pretty careful observance of the social traditions which by that time had become immemorial. And as the growing complexity of society in country towns developed the learned professions of law and medicine, the squire and the doctor were almost everywhere recognized as persons of consideration. From the beginning, meanwhile, there had been in New England two other kinds of people, tacitly felt to be of lower rank: those plain folks such as were originally known by the epithet "goodman," who, maintaining personal respectability, never rose to intellectual or political eminence, and never made more than enough money to keep decently out of debt, and those descendants of immigrant servants and the like, whose general character resembled that of the poor whites of the South. Just as the local aristocracy of fifty years ago provided almost every Yankee village with its principal people, so this lowest class contributed to almost every village a recognized group of village drunkards.
The political forms which governed this isolated population were outwardly democratic; the most characteristic were the town-meetings of which so much has been written. The population itself, too, was nowhere so large as to allow any resident of a given town to be a complete stranger to any other; but as the generations passed, the force of local tradition slowly, insensibly increased until, long before 1800, the structure of New England society had become extremely rigid. Sewall, as we have seen, preserves an unconscious picture of this society in the closing years of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth. In more deliberate literature there are various more conscious pictures of it later. To mention only a few, Mrs. Stowe's Oldtown Folks gives an admirably vivid account of the Norfolk country about 1800; Whittier's Snow-Bound preserves in "Flemish Pictures" the Essex County farmers of a few years later; and Lowell's papers on "Cambridge Thirty Years Ago" and on "A Great Public Character" -- Josiah Quincy -- give more stately pictures of Middlesex County at about the same time. The incidental glimpses of life in Jacob Abbott's "Rollo Books" are artlessly true of Yankee life in the '40s; Miss Lucy Larcom's New England Girlhood and Dr. Edward Everett Hale's more cursory New England Boyhood carry the story from a little earlier to a little later. Miss Alcott's Little Women does for the '60s what "Rollo" does for the '40s. And the admirable tales of Miss Mary Wilkins and of Miss Sarah Orne Jewett portray the later New England country in its decline. In all these works, and in the many others of which we may take them as typical, you will find people of quality familiarly mingling with others, but tacitly recognized as socially superior, almost like an hereditary aristocracy.
It may appear that we have dwelt too long on Harvard; but Harvard remains the chief intellectual centre of that part of New England from which the literature of our Renaissance sprang. It was at Harvard, on the whole, that the elder school of New England letters was nurtured. Harvard men edited the old North American Review. Through Fields's time the influence of Harvard traditions was paramount in the Atlantic Monthly. Emerson was a Harvard man; Longfellow and Lowell were Harvard professors. And so on. The contrast between the elder Harvard and the new becomes apparent. Since the days of the Renaissance, which we considered by themselves, Harvard, for all its incessant activities, has been of no great literary importance. It has tended to an intellectual isolation from which the separate men who have addressed the public have addressed them each separately and in his own way; and among all these men on whom we have touched, only one has attempted a contribution to pure literature. This is Professor Santayana, in his two or three volumes of poetry.
Throughout the period which we now have in mind, the production of poetry in New England has been copious. A good deal of this verse has been of more than respectable quality; but so little of it has emerged into distinct excellence that, if anyone were asked to name the poets of New England in recent times he might find himself at fault. He might perhaps recall the pleasant memory of Celia Thaxter (1836-1894), who passed most of her busy, brave, useful life at the Isle[s] of Shoals, where she was born and died, and whose verses, together with one or two volumes of prose, delightfully record the temper with which such humanity as hers could surpass what to most human beings would have been the benumbing limits of isolation. He might recall, too, as of New England origin, the less distinct figure of Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887), whose few, but admirable, poems bespeak the isolation of a Transcendentalist born too late. He would probably recall the hauntingly mournful isolation phrased in the still more solitary poems of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), whose mood laments a vanished past almost as palpably as the mood of Transcendentalism welcomed an unfathomed future. But almost the only figure which would define itself with certainty would be that of Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-).
Aldrich, like Fields before him, passed most of his youth in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Then, for a while, he was engaged first in business, and later in journalism at New York. He did not settle in Boston until he was nearly thirty years old; but as he has lived there ever since, he has long been recognized as the chief surviving man of letters there resident. The circumstances of his earlier years, however, have naturally precluded him from immediate inheritance of local traditions. And his exquisitely finished verse -- never copious, but never free from a loving care for every detail which makes it seem better each time you read it -- accordingly appears almost as independent of local influences as was the verse of Poe in the New York of the '40s.
With Aldrich's prose work the case has been different. His Story of a Bad Boy (1870) records boy life in the dying New Hampshire seaport as vividly as Lucy Larcom's New England Girlhood (1889) records her memories of Massachusetts in the '30s. And although Aldrich's other stories, and the like, have less New England flavor, there is not a little of it in many of them; nor is there any of them which we cannot turn to with certainty of such satisfaction as should come from works of conscientious art. None the less, the fact that Howells, an Ohio man, was succeeded in control of the Atlantic Monthly by Aldrich, whose early years were passed in New Hampshire, New Orleans, and New York, is a fact which both typifies and explains the manner in which the older literary traditions of New England have been disintegrating.
Of the writers of fiction who have flourished there meanwhile, the most popular have been women. The Little Women (1867) of Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) is a story of New England girlhood as vivid and as true as were Jacob Abbott's "Rollo" tales of New England childhood a generation before. The earlier stories of Miss Mary Wilkins (1862-) portray with touching pathos and humor the decline of the New England country, as the period with which we are now concerned came upon it. And the stories of Miss Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-) are equally true to the pathos of this declining New England, and at the same time almost as exquisite in finish as are the stories in general of Aldrich. Meanwhile, Mrs. Margaret Deland (1857-), a Pennsylvanian, whose married life has been passed in Boston, has written, after one or two volumes of delicate poetry, a number of stories which deal, uncompromisingly yet tenderly, with various religious and social questions such as the conditions of modern life are bound everywhere to raise.
From Horace Spencer Fiske, Provincial Types in American Fiction. New York: Chautauqua, 1907.pp. 7-9A kindlier, sweeter phase of New England life is seen in the satisfying art of the books written by Sarah Orne Jewett, who, for subtle sympathy with her characters, an appreciation of their finer, higher qualities, and a medium of expression Greek-like in its simplicity and serenity, must take a very high place in the portrayal of provincial New England types. In "Country By-Ways," "Tales of New England," and "A Country Doctor," and especially in "A Marsh Island" and "Deephaven," Miss Jewett has done very much to preserve in permanent literary form the quaint and beautiful traits of rural New England. As one recalls the people in "A Marsh Island," the exquisite and lovable figure of Doris Owen emerges in the dawn-light of that memorable morning when she made her trembling and heroic way to Westmarket to confess her love and dissuade her angry lover from embarking for the Banks. And there is Doris's dear old father with the touch of sentiment and imagination and love of nature, and the tireless and ambitious mother, and Jim Fales, and the jealous but virile and constant Dan Lester, -- a group of rural figures made all the more interesting by the unique background of quiet beauty and color that Miss Jewett knows how to draw so easily and so effectively.In Miss Jewett's "Deephaven" we have a collection of short sketches and stories that show her art at its highest, and so realistic as to lead many readers to suppose that "Deephaven" is a veritable New England seaport known to themselves. Miss Jewett, however, in her preface, disclaims any close identity in her characterizations, and denies that "Deephaven" is on the actual map of New England. The two Boston girls who spent that memorable summer in the quaint old Brandon house at Deephaven make delightfully fresh and interesting figures amid the decayed aristocracy and retired sea-captains and talkative widows and sedate spinsters of the inactive but charming old seaport. The optimistic and humorous Mrs. Kew, wife of the lighthouse keeper, the reminiscent "Widow Jim," who could make rugs and preside at funerals, and had "faculty"; the pipe-smoking, story-telling old sea-captains, like Captain Isaac Horn; Captain Lant, who though now devoted to farming, had to take "a day's fishing every hand's turn, to keep the old hulk clear of barnacles;" the lame, red-shirted "Danny," with his cat and hospital stories; and the visionary Captain Sands, who had a sort of marine museum and was a specialist in weather and the mysteries of telepathy, -- some of these types seem done from the life, and over them all is a misty light of remoteness and tradition that softens and endears.pp. 64-74
"DEEPHAVEN" BY SARAH ORNE JEWETT
JUST before his death James Russell Lowell wrote to Miss Jewett's publishers in London: "I am very glad to hear that Miss Jewett's delightful stories are to be reprinted in England. Nothing more pleasingly characteristic of rural life in New England has been written, and they have long been valued by the judicious here." And the world of "judicious" American readers still agrees with this discriminating judgment. The daughter of "A Country Doctor," Miss Jewett had all the advantages, as a girl, of going about the country with her father on his visits to inland farms or along the seacoast; and "when the time came that my own world of imagination was more real to me than any other, I was sometimes perplexed at my father's directing my attention to certain points of interest in the characters or surroundings of our acquaintances. I cannot help believing that he recognized, long before I did myself, in what direction the current of purpose in my life was setting. Now as I write my sketches of country life, I remember again and again the wise things he said, and the sights he made me see."
Such peculiar preparation for portraying in permanent literary form the characteristics of certain provincial types in New England life bore fruit in "Deephaven," her first literary and artistic success. The fact, too, that her early life was spent in the old Maine settlement of Berwick, with its once flourishing shipping trade, its sailors and "sea-tanned captains," and that her own grandfather had been a sea-captain, gave to the writing of such a collection of sketches as "Deephaven" an authoritative and natural touch that constitutes much of their charm and value. To all these favorable conditions must be added the possession by Miss Jewett of a literary art that is almost classic in its clearness and grace, its vital sympathy, and its unaffected sincerity. If, as she herself says, "the distinction of modern literature is the evocation of sympathy," and if, as Plato said, the best thing that can be done for the people of a state is to make them acquainted with one another, Miss Jewett's literary purpose has been very happily accomplished.
The summer that Kate Lancaster spent at the old Brandon house in Deephaven, in company with her friend who recounts the narrative, was indeed a summer of unique charm and delight -- for Deephaven was a quaint old place with high rocks and woods and hills, and Brandon house is suggestive of that fine old home in Berwick, Maine built in 1750, where Miss Jewett herself was born. Twelve miles from Deephaven the two girls left the railway and took passage in a stage-coach, with only one passenger besides themselves, who was a very large, thin, weather-beaten woman that looked tired, lonesome, and good-natured. She was delighted to respond to the remark that it was very dusty, with another remark to the effect that she should think everybody was sweeping, and that she always felt, after being in the cars awhile, as if she "had been taken all to pieces and left in the different places." This genial and talkative fellow-passenger, Mrs. Kew, proved to be the wife of the keeper of the Deephaven light, and she and her husband were destined to give the two young ladies some very unusual diversions during the summer.
Upon the inquiry as to whether Mrs. Kew knew the Brandon house in Deephaven, the genial soul replied that she knew it as well as the meeting-house. " 'He' wrote me some o' Mrs. Lancaster's folks were going to take the Brandon house this summer, an' so you are the ones? It's a sightly old place; I used to go and see Miss Katherine. She must have left a power of chinaware." Mrs. Kew also told how she herself would always be "a real up-country woman" if she lived there a hundred years. "The sea doesn't come natural to me, it kind of worries me, though you won't find a happier woman than I be, 'long shore."
As the stage drove up to the old Brandon "place," the young ladies noted with satisfaction the row of poplars in front of the great white house, the tall lilacs, the crowds of rose bushes still in bloom, the box borders, and the great elms at the side of the house and down the road. And the hall door stood wide open. Within, it was a home of great possibilities, -- four large rooms on the lower floor, and six above, a wide hall in each story, and a "fascinating garret" over the whole, where were many mysterious old chests and boxes, in one of which the girls found the love-letters of Kate's grandmother. The rooms all had elaborate cornices, and the lower hall was very fine, with an archway dividing it, and all kinds of panelings, and a great door at either end. But "the best chamber" rather inspired dread. It had a huge curtained bed, and the paper on the walls had been captured in a French prize some time in the last century, -- the color of it being an "unearthly pink and a forbidding maroon, with dim white spots, which gave it the appearance of having molded." The great lounge made the girls low-spirited, after hearing that Miss Brandon herself didn't like it, because she had seen so many of her relatives lie there dead. There were fantastic china ornaments from Bible subjects on the mantel, and the only picture was one of the Maid of Orleans, tied with an "unnecessarily strong rope to a very stout stake." The west parlor downstairs proved to be the girls' favorite room, with its great fireplace framed in blue and white Dutch tiles which represented graphically the careers of the good and the bad man. The last two of the series were of very high art, -- a great coffin stood in the foreground of each, and the virtuous man was being led off by "two disagreeable-looking angels," while the wicked one was hastening from an "indescribable but unpleasant assemblage of claws and horns and eyes which is rapidly advancing from the distance, open- mouthed, and bringing a chain with it."
In their visits to Mrs. Kew and the lighthouse Kate and her friend were particularly interested in a row of marks on the back of the wide "fore door," where Mrs. Kew had tried to keep account one summer of the number of people who innocently inquired about the depredations of the neighbors' chickens; and they were also specially interested in Mrs. Kew's collection of "relations" in the form of photographs, and in her critical remarks about special features in the faces. "That's my oldest brother's wife, Clorinthy Adams that was. She's well-featured, if it were not for her nose, and that looks as if it had been thrown at her, and she wasn't particular about having it on firm, in hopes of getting a better one. She sets by her looks though."
Among the first of Deephaven callers on the two girls from Boston was a prim little old woman by the name of Mrs. Patton. She wore a neat cap and "front," but no bonnet, and had over her shoulders a little three-cornered shawl. She was very short and straight and thin, and "darted like a pickerel" when she moved about. She impressed Kate's friend as an undoubtedly capable person with "faculty." When Kate remarked that she had been inquiring whether Mrs. Patton was still in Deephaven, the prim little woman excitedly exclaimed: "Land o' compassion! Where'd ye s'pose I'd be, dear? I ain't like to move away from Deephaven now, after I've held by the place so long I've got as many roots as the big ellum."
The care-taking Mrs. Patton hoped that Kate and her friend had found the house in "middling order," for "me and Mis' Dockum have done the best we knew, -- opened the windows and let in the air and tried to keep it from getting damp. I fixed all the woolens with fresh camphire and tobacco the last o' the winter; you have to be dreadful careful in one o' these old houses, less every thing gets creaking with moths in no time. . . . I set a trap there, but it was older'n the ten commandments, that trap was, and the spring's rusty. . . . I see your aunt's cat setting out on the front steps. She never was no great of a mouser, but it went to my heart to see how pleased she looks! Come right back, didn't she?" She continued in a reminiscent strain of pleased garrulity, recalling the funeral of Kate's aunt, Miss Brandon, and pronouncing this unqualified eulogy: "She was a good Christian woman, Miss Katherine was. 'The memory of the just is blessed'; that's what Mr. Lorimer said in his sermon the Sunday after she died, and there wasn't a blood relation there to hear it." So spoke in grateful stream the "Widow Jim" (to distinguish her from the widow of Jack Patton), who was a distinctly useful personage in the community of Deephaven. She made elaborate rugs and carpets, she "cleaned house" at the Carews' and Lorimers', she had no equal in sickness and could brew every old-fashioned dose and every variety of herb tea, and she often served her patient after death by being commander-in-chief at her funeral, -- even to the making out of the order of the procession, since she had all the local genealogy and relationship at her tongue's end. In fact, a mistake in precedence at a funeral was counted an awful thing in Deephaven; and the young ladies once chanced to hear some bitter remarks because the cousins of the departed wife had been placed after the husband's relatives, -- "the blood relations ridin' behind them that was only kin by marriage!"
The good opinion in which Mrs. Patton was held in the community was generously reflected by Mrs. Dockum, as the young ladies were returning from the post-office after their call on the Widow Jim. "Willin' woman," said Mrs. Dockum, "always been respected; got an uncommon facility o' speech. . . . Dreadful tough time of it with her husband, shif'less and drunk all his time," continued Mrs. Dockum, in the pleasure of painful reminiscence. "Noticed that dent in the side of her forehead, I s'pose? That's where he liked to have killed her; slung a stone bottle at her." At the exclamation of shocked interest on the part of the young ladies, Mrs. Dockum considerately went into details: "She don't like to have it inquired about; but she and I were sitting up with 'Manda Damer one night, and she gave me the particulars. . . . Had sliced cucumbers for breakfast that morning; he was very partial to them, and he wanted some vinegar. Happened to be two bottles in the cellar-way; were just alike, and one of 'em was vinegar and the other had sperrit in it at haying-time. He takes up the wrong one and pours on quick, and out come the hayseed and flies, and he give the bottle a sling and it hit her there where you see the scar; might put the end of your finger into the dent. He said he meant to break the bottle ag'in the door, but it went slantwise, sort of. . . . He died in debt; drank like a fish." And then Mrs. Dockum rounded her story with a concise eulogy of the widow: "Yes, 'twas a shame, nice woman; good consistent church member; always been respected; useful among the sick."
Among the most interesting types in Deephaven society were the ancient mariners who sunned themselves like turtles every pleasant summer morning on the wharves. They were known by etiquette as "captains," though the author is inclined to believe that some of them took their title by brevet upon arriving at the proper age. They used to sit close together because so many of them were deaf, and their reminiscences ran upon the voyage of the Sea Duck or the wanderings of the Ocean Rover. The captains used occasionally to get into violent altercations over the tonnage of some craft; they pulled away at little black pipes, consuming tobacco in fabulous quantities; and, needless to say, much of their attention was given to the weather. The appearance of an outsider was wont to cause a "disapproving silence"; but the girls were once bold enough to overhear from behind the corner of the warehouse the oldest and wisest of them all, Captain Isaac Horn, who was evidently giving one of his favorite stories, about some cloth he had once purchased in Bristol, which the shopkeeper delayed sending till just as they were ready to sail.
"I happened to take a look at that cloth," droned the captain in a loud voice, "and as quick as I got sight of it, I spoke onpleasant of that swindling English fellow, and the crew, they stood back. I was dreadful high-tempered in them days, mind ye; and I had the gig manned. We was out in the stream, just ready to sail. 'Twas no use waiting any longer for the wind to change, and we was going north-about. I went ashore, and when I walks into his shop ye never see a creatur' so wilted. Ye see the miser'ble sculpin thought I'd never stop to open the goods, an' it was a chance I did, mind ye! 'Lor,' says he, grinning and turning the color of a biled lobster, 'I s'posed ye were a standing out to sea by this time.' 'No,' says I, 'and I've got my men out here on the quay a landing that cloth o' yourn, and if you don't send just what I bought and paid for down there to go back in the gig within fifteen minutes, I'll take ye by the collar and drop ye into the dock.' I was twice the size of him, mind ye, and master strong.' Don't ye like it?' says he, edging round; I'll change it for ye, then.' Ter'ble perlite he was. 'Like it?' says I, 'it looks as if it were built of dog's hair and divil's wool, kicked together by spiders; and it's coarser than Irish frieze; three threads to an armful,' says I."
And there was Captain Lant, who knew all the local family history and how to bring the conversation around to a point where he could work in one of his pet stories, -- the one he told with special relish, and with the solemn declaration that it was true, being a strange story of telepathy, which Miss Jewett gives in the captain's quaint and vivid language and with all his love of detail. The last letter received from the old captain by the young ladies on their return to Boston was headed with the latitude and longitude of Deephaven, and was signed, "Respectfully yours with esteem, Jacob Lant (condemned as unseaworthy)."
One of the fishermen whom Kate and her friend knew least of all was an odd-looking, silent sort of man, more sun-burnt and weather-beaten than any of the others. He was locally known as "Danny," and one morning, finding him at work cleaning fish in a shed, Kate's friend ventured the judgment that she thought mackerel were the prettiest fish that swim. "So do I, miss, not to say but I've seen more fancy- looking fish down in Southern waters, bright as any flower you ever see; but a mackerel," holding up one admiringly, "why, they're so clean-built and trig-looking! Put a cod alongside, and he looks as lumbering as an old-fashioned Dutch brig aside a yacht." And tossing some fish heads to the cats that suddenly walked in as if they felt at home, he was reminded of a good cat story, which he proceeded to tell. At the conclusion of his narrative, when he expressed his preference for haddock over cod, and Kate asked whether it was cod or haddock that had a black stripe along their sides, Kate's friend cried out with superior knowledge, "Oh, those are haddock; they say that the Devil caught a haddock once, and it slipped through his fingers and got scorched; so all the haddock had the same mark afterward." Whereat Danny, smiling at her peculiar lore, remarked wisely, "Ye mustn't believe all the old stories ye hear, mind ye!" There was also the prominent but somewhat visionary Captain Sands, who had a sort of marine museum in an old warehouse and was "a great hand for keeping things." He took the young ladies out to Black Rock to fish for cunners, and on the way gave them some of his judgments on the weather, observing that his "gran'ther" used to say that "a growing moon chaws up the clouds." "Some folks lay all the weather to the moon, accordin' to where she quarters, and when she's in perigee we're going to have this kind of weather, and when she's in apogee she's got to do so and so for sartain; but gran'ther he used to laugh at all them things. . . . Well, he did use to depend on the moon some; everybody knows we aren't so likely to have foul weather in a growing moon as we be when she's waning. But some folks I could name, they can't do nothing without having the moon's opinion on it."
Deephaven had as peculiar types, also, old Mrs. Bonny and Miss Sally Chauncey -- the former, to whom the minister took the young ladies for a call, living a few miles from the town in company with a little black horse, a yellow-and-white dog, and a flock of hens; and the latter remaining alone in her ruined home and imagining in her harmless insanity that she was still part of the social aristocracy to which she formerly belonged. Mrs. Bonny's costume was somewhat masculine in its make-up, as she wore a man's coat, cut off so that it made an odd short jacket, and a pair of men's boots. She had, besides, short skirts, and two or three aprons, the inner one being a dress-apron and the outer ones being thrown aside on the entrance of the visitors. A tight cap with strings completed her costume. Behind the stove in the kitchen a sick turkey was being nursed, while the flock of hens was remorselessly hustled out with a hemlock broom, since callers were present.
In the conversation that ensued with the eccentric widow, the minister's reminder that Parson Reid preached the following Sunday in the neighboring schoolhouse recalled to Mrs. Bonny old Parson Padelford. He'd get worked up, and he'd shut up the Bible and preach the hair off your head, 'long at the end of the sermon." And she also described to them with much relish a recent revival where she found one of her uncertain neighbors praying, -- old Ben Patey, -- "he always lays out to get converted, and he kep' it up diligent till I couldn't stand it no longer; and by and by says he, 'I've been a wanderer'; and I up and says; 'Yes, you have, I'll back ye up on that, Ben ye've wandered around my wood lot and spoilt half the likely young oaks and ashes I've got, a-stealing your basket stuff.' And the folks laughed out loud, and up he got and cleared. He's an awful old thief, and he's no idea of being anything else. I wa'n't a-goin' to set there and hear him makin' b'lieve to the Lord."
Like Miss Sally Chauncey there were many in Deephaven who imagined they were still in the circle of the privileged class, and who had distinct pity for people who were obliged to live in other parts of the world. As Miss Honora Carew loftily remarked, the tone of Deephaven society had always been very high, and it was very nice that there had never been any manufacturing element introduced, -- any disagreeable foreign population. Truly a delightful old seaport is Deephaven, even if it is such only in name, -- for Sarah Orne Jewett once dropped anchor there.
Eva March Tappan, ed. Modern Stories. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1907.
Introduction: TO THE CHILDREN
THERE are two secrets about stories that not every one knows. The first is that in one way or another every book worth reading is true. A really good "made-up story" is just as true as an arithmetic, only in another fashion. The incidents may be fiction, but the meaning must be truth itself. "The Great Stone Face," for instance, is a true story. Of course it is not at all probable that any boy ever gazed at the Old Man of the Mountain until he began to look like it; but it is true that a boy is almost sure to become like the persons whom he admires. That is the meaning, the real heart of the story. In "A Dog of Flanders," it is not probable that precisely the events narrated ever took place; but it is true that a dog is always grateful for kindness and is happy if he can return it. In the same way, Miss Jewett's "Farmer Finch" is true; for a brave girl like Polly would not sit idle because she could not have just the work in the world that she had expected, but would "Do ye nexte thynge," as the old motto puts it. Again, there are stories who incidents not only never occurred but could not possibly occur, such as Ruskin's "King of the Golden River" and Poe's "Descent into the Maelstrom." No wicked older brothers ever turned into black stones, and no fisherman was ever swept down into a whirlpool which never existed. You have to do a little more thinking to find the meaning of these stories, but the meaning is there, and to discover it is one of the things that boys and girls can do as well as grown folk.The second secret is that the real value of a story is the way it makes you feel. After you have read Dr. Hale's "A Man Without a Country," for instance, you are almost sure to feel that it is a glorious thing not to have to stand alone in the world, but to belong to your own country, and that you are bound to do all you can to help your fatherland in peace as well as in war. So in"Jackanapes," although the young hero is not made at once commander-in-chief of the British army and although he has no more adventures than would come in the way of almost any soldier, yet you close the book feeling that it is a splendid thing to be as brave and generous as he was. In "The Peterkins are Obliged to Move" there is good clean fun; and after you have read it, imitation fun, such as silly practical jokes and stories that are just a little coarse, seems rather stupid and vulgar. You know as well as the oldest and wisest persons on earth that the feelings which come from reading such books as these are good to have.This preface is not exactly a preface; it is, rather, the text for a sermon. The sermon you can think out for yourselves.
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College, with assistance of Linda Heller.
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